Bill threatens lien, penalty to elderly, blind homeowner who owes one cent

South Attleboro, MA -- home of the brightest, most sympathetic city employees in the whole town!
South Attleboro resident Eileen Wilbur's bill from the city is for one penny.

The city sent Wilbur a letter dated Nov. 10 stating that if the 1 cent balance is not paid by Dec. 10, the city will assess a lien of up to $48 on Wilbur's next property tax bill.

"They wasted taxpayer money on the letter," Wilbur said, noting the 42-cent charge for a stamp.

City Collector Debora Marcoccio said the bill was sent out along with more than 2,000 others as the city tries to recoup outstanding balances before resorting to putting liens on property.

A computer automatically printed the letters for any account with a balance remaining, and they were not reviewed by staff before being sent out, Marcoccio said.

"It would be fiscally irresponsible for me to have staff weed through the bills and pull out any below a certain amount," Marcoccio said. " And what would that amount be?"

City wants her cent (Via The Agitator)


  1. This has to be another zinger from those guys down at Jack’s Joke Shop. Jack’s Joke Shop in South Attleboro, MA! Remember, if it ain’t funny, it ain’t worth Jack!

  2. That amount would be at least 42 cents. More likely around $25. Here. I’ll help: DELETE FROM LIENS WHERE AMOUNT < 25

  3. What a joke. Someone obviously had to write the query that pulled only positive balances, so pulling balances over $X would’ve meant substituting X for zero.

  4. My MA town sends the quarterly tax bills out 6 months apart (2 at a time but dated 3 months apart) just to save on the postage.

  5. All they need to do is set a minimum amount to bill, and append any smaller amount to the next tax bill, possibly adding interest. So if they owe less than, say, $5, add, say, $5.05 to the next bill. The goal of taxes is to raise money to fund services, so any billing policy that costs more money than it raises is idiotic.

  6. My university threatened to withhold my diploma for a 26-cent long distance bill. It sent three letters before I paid it with a check. My favorite part is that the jackass who wrote the billing database that sent such letters was my roommate. Even better, now he does the same thing for Google’s Ad Sense! (And, honestly, he’s a hell of a good person.)

  7. I once received a parking ticket for $14 while traveling in New Zealand with some friends. They tracked down my friend’s parents (as the billing address on his credit card was their house) and sent a letter demanding their money all the way to Canada. His parents then sent it to him in Australia, where both of us were living at the time. The only way to pay it was to send a money order, which had a minimum of $20 or $25, plus the service fee and all that. I think it ended up coming to around $28.
    Not quite a $0.01 – $48, but if you were to calculate in the various postages and all the time this ate up, it would amount to a pretty fantastic markup.

  8. Ms. Marcoccio needs to realize there are more things to take into consideration here than fiscal responsibility. It sounds like she’s not the person for the job.

  9. You’re expecting a municipality to have policies that make sense? Really? Some small town councils are little more than Strata Councils, with all the stupidity and pettiness this implies.

  10. The City of Columbus doesn’t even want you to send checks for less than a dollar. Their tax forms specifically say “Do not remit amounts less than one dollar.” That’s a sensible policy.

  11. I personally work for a utility and I know a few things about this sort of thing.

    First off, they’re likely using a very old billing system because many modern systems work to avoid these sorts of LOW BILL situations.

    Because they’re (likely) using an old system, modifying the queries, which may be running against some AS/400 DB2 nightmare, might not be easy.

    That said, it cost money to print the bill. It cost money to mail the bill. Since the city likely doesn’t take cash in envelopes as remittance, it will cost them money to process the incoming CHECK then it will cost them to print an updated bill showing a 0.00 balance.

    The $.01 amount makes this newsworthy (on a slow day) but how many bills for $.06 or $.52 go out? The utility still loses money for this because of the check processing fees etc.

    Not terribly smart on their end.

    Oh, and she’s blind!

  12. Lets see if I don’t get in trouble for this post…

    This is a case of ‘Choose your battles’ in it’s finest.

    This goes for both parties as well: The city should have let it go in the first place, but now the guy is going to cause MORE money to be spent fighting it. Courts aren’t free. Someone has to pay all those jurors, security, etc.

  13. I agree – a small programming change could prevent this kind of stuff.

    However, it’s also important to bear in mind that:

    a) They may be using software that they are not able to change, and the cost from the vendor may be outrageous, even for such a small change as this, or

    b) They may be using software that they CAN change, but they do not have anyone on their staff with the knowledge to do so.

    I don’t know how big South Attleboro, MA is, but based on the threat of a tax lein of only $48.00 (where I live, property taxes for the average 3 bdr home run in the $2000 range annually and leins are BIG), I am willing to bet they are a small community without a lot of revenue.

    It may actually be less costly for them to send the letter than to either pay their software vendor for the change, get someone on their staff who can customize their software, or hire a contractor to do the work.

    I know it sounds stupid, but I also know how software companies like to sell governments “cheap” software and then charge them up the wazoo for support and customization.

  14. Hmmm.

    How about everyone in South Attleboro head down to city hall, or wherever these idiots nest, and throw a penny at a window? South Attleboro gets their penny, and maybe a valuable lesson in being a moron.

  15. @ #15 Spokehedz… Well, you’re in trouble, alright! Not for your opinion, of course- but for being an idiot! First off, there is no ‘guy fighting it’ – if you’d paid attention to the article (basic literacy skills), you would have realised it’s about a woman. In fact, there were no guys mentioned at all- the town spokeperson is also a woman. Secondly, nobody is fighting the thing- if you’d have bothered to read the linked article, that would be clear as mud, but even from the excerpt here, it’s pretty obvious. And thirdly, I can’t help but grief you over your misuse of ‘its’.

    Hopefully this meets your requirements for ‘trouble’. It’s all part of the service I provide!

    As to the topic at hand, I’d suggest she write the city a cheque for the penny, but use a full-size sheet of plywood, like they do for lottery winners.

  16. Just for kicks I googled:
    Debora Marcoccio South Attleboro

    In a single day (today), she went from being an unknown to being what’s wrong with local government.

    I can only imagine her husband asking, “Hi honey. How was work today?”

    I hope she has a sense of humor.

  17. If it were me, I’d send them a check. For $0.02. And demand a receipt. And a refund for the overpayment.

  18. My dad was the student loan manager for a large state university. His policy was that if you were within $10 of a zero balance (positive or negative) he closed the loan as paid-in-full. Saved on postage for trivial amounts.

  19. I worked for a short while in Germany, and my last paycheque came into my German bank account (they insisted it be a German bank) after I had returned to Canada.

    I had set up Internet banking before I left, against just such an eventuality. This was a big deal – Postbank was much less casual about Internet banking than Canadian banks at the time.

    I logged in, set up a transfer to my own bank, for the amount in the account, minus the few Marks that the international transfer cost. It went through instantly, and my account was reduced to DM 0 – score one for arithmetic, now I could close my account!

    A few weeks later, I got a bank statement to the effet that my account was at zero. Then a few days after that, I got a bank statement to the effect that my account was at negative 1 DM. That was the service charge for the previous bank statement they’d sent me. It turned out they’d set up my account so that every single account activity triggered a bank statement mailing, at a cost of 1 DM each. The regular monthly statement was free, which was nice of them.

    For the next four years, I got a statement every month, slowly adding a penny’s interest to my overdraft. I couldn’t close the account, and there was no way of getting the balance back to zero, without paying twenty times the amount of the actual overdraft.

    I stayed up late so I could talk to someone during German bankers’ hours. It didn’t do me any good.

    An impasse set in.

    I began getting statements showing my overdraft in Euros.

    The account I had set up was free only as long as I was under 24 years old. Once my 24th birthday came, they would begin charging me 2 or 3 Euros a month to keep the account open.

    In the end, I caved – I spent about 20 bucks to send them a 10 Euro bank transfer (to cover the inevitable extra bank statements the transfer would trigger), then sent a letter to the bank asking them to close the account, and send me confirmation that they had done so, whether by e-mail, postal mail, or telephone.

    The statements stopped coming in the mail, but the bastards never got back to me like I asked.

  20. 25 years ago I was disappointed in the poor service of a texas bank – so I took my money elsewhere. All of the money except $0.01 – and every month since then they have been mailing a statement to me…

  21. I once got a letter from my bank (Bendigo Bank) telling me that I had $0.14 owing and that if I did not deposit the $0.14 into the account the bank would be forced to contact debt collectors to purchase the debt which of course would result in about $150 being slapped onto the bill. I also had another account with the very same bank (linked accounts under the same name, address, etc) which had a total of about $3.20 in it.

    I didn’t have phone or internet banking set up and had just set up a new bank account with a different bank and was planning on having both accounts closed as soon as I could get half a day off work to physically go into the bank and sort it all out.

    Anywho as the letter said I only had 14 days to pay the $0.14cents before the debt was sold on I figured I should call them on my lunch break at work and explain that

    a) I worked full time, out of town and there was no way I could get any time off over the next few weeks.

    b) Surely someone at the bank could use common sense and see that $0.14 debt wasn’t worth selling, no chasing up with a letter with a $0.45 stamp on the front.

    c) My accounts are linked accounts and surely it’s not difficult for them to transfer $1 from one account to the other and simply close them both (cover any transaction and closing fees).

    Of course companies such as banks have all sorts of strange red tape running everywhere that makes it very difficult for common sense to play a part so I got no where with the argument and they insisted I would need to take off half a day of work to clear my $0.14 debt.

    Understanding that the bank wouldn’t profit at all from trying to sell the debt (even if the debt collecting company would profit from their fee) I was fairly confident that in the end the bank would just close the account and be done with it. 3 more threatening letters later (each with a $0.45 stamp on the front) I could see they were certainly having difficulty selling this debt on. Finally about 6 months after my initial phone call I got a letter saying they’d transferred $1.45 from one account into the other and that they accounts could now both be closed because they were inactive and with unsubstantial funds to keep running or some crap.

    All in all, idiots!

  22. This is why every “zero tolerance” policy is, de facto, proof of profound mental defect.

    If it’s worth it, for everyone, to let it go, you let it go. If you don’t, you are a sociopath who is 10 times more harmful than doing nothing at all.

  23. Next to the cash register in the treasurer’s office in South Attleboro, there’s a tiny cup full of pennies beneath a sign that says:

    Got a lien? — Leave a lien.
    Need a lien? — Take a lien.

  24. @14 brucethehoon:

    Good, rational post but:

    Don’t dis the ‘400 like that! :) Sturdiest lil’ DB server ever. Easiest, most consistent platform ever for DB work too imho.

    Beats the sh!t out of the windows stuff i have to use nowadays…

  25. Just imagine all the people coming into city hall with pennies that they found on the sidewalk. “Yo, Deb! This is for Eileen Wilbur’s tax bill, OK? STFU, kthxbai.”

  26. In Mass here with have this town tax for a car over and above the registration fee. and the license fee and the registration fee. It is about 40 dollars for my old car and due to an address mixup there was an $11 balance not paid. Instead of tracking me down through the state registration or inspection or license they let the fee build up to $50 but the best part was they put out 2 warrants for my arrest.

    Luckily one day I stopped by town hall to check on something was able to pay before a stop in Mass led to a major….problem.


  27. my CPA father used to audit the county government. he found that the book keeper kept two big jars of change and threw money from one to the other on such occasions. She then made a small entry on the next bill to reflect that. Needless to say her books were great. by the way the cost for that county was $7.00 to rebill.

  28. The Great State of Georgia once pulled my alcoholic beverage serving permit, closing my business and putting 42 people out of work for two days, because they (the state) misplaced a $7.00 check. Bastard troll of an enforcement officer, gun on his hip(!), told me “I am God as far as you’re concerned”.

    Of course this caused many problems, not the least of which was some freeform delusions in the neighborhood that the license was yanked for more felonious reasons.

    Posting anonymously for a reason…

  29. I did see on the local MA news that people had been leaving pennies on the city hall steps after it was on the news, a former selectman/something important wrote them a check for a cent so it had his name on it.

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