IT smoothes bumps in tax compliance road

At FOSE today, Mike Longhi, deputy treasurer for compliance for the Arlington County, Va., Office of the Treasurer, led a talk on tax compliance at E-Town, FOSE's own e-government version of Main Street.

Longhi talked about some high-tech'and low-tech'ways the county has gotten debtors to ante up.

'You know those 'Find your classmate' Web sites? We use them to find tax debtors,' Longhi said.

Before the advent of the Internet, a skip-trace search for an individual would cost between $5 and $7. But recently Longhi's staff tested out their own names on a Web site that offered skip-trace searches for 30 cents.

'It found the address where I lived in college,' Longhi said. 'And I graduated in 1983.'

He also described a low-tech method that was helpful in finding tax debtors.

'Say someone is not answering our phone calls. We send them a check for $5,' Longhi said. 'Then when they cash it, you can seize their bank account and get your $5 back.'

Longhi also expressed concern about the stovepipes that sometimes impede the flow of revenue between state, local and federal tax systems.

For example, if someone gets a refund from Virginia, but owes personal property taxes to Arlington County, the county can take the debt from that refund.

Likewise, Virginia can take funds from an IRS tax refund to pay a tax debt owed to the state. The IRS disbursed $120 million to states last year using this process, called 'set off' debt.

But Arlington County can't seek payment of a debt owed to it from a taxpayer's IRS refund, Longhi said.

The county had tried to seek an amendment in the tax code last year that would allow it to tap into the existing revenue channel between the state and the IRS, but to no avail, Longhi said.

Tax delinquencies in Arlington County, Va., are about 1.62 percent, he said, which is very low.

About the Author

Trudy Walsh is a senior writer for GCN.

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