NEW MILFORD — Many Connecticut towns have seen an influx of city dwellers looking to escape their crowded living arrangements during the coronavirus pandemic. Now that many have made the move permanent, local officials want to make sure they are paying their share.
New Milford is no exception, launching a program Thursday through a contract with Municipal Tax Services in an effort to ensure people who have moved to town are registering their vehicles and paying the related taxes.
“We had some residents throughout the summer say they thought it wasn’t fair that the onus of motor vehicle taxes were borne by some and not by others,” Mayor Pete Bass said, adding that tax revenue goes toward services used by most of the community, such as schools and improvements to roads and bridges.
Bass said many people may not be aware they have to register their cars. All new residents to Connecticut are required to register their vehicles within 60 days of moving, though the state has given a 180-day extension due to the pandemic.
New Milford is the latest Connecticut municipality contracting with MTS, joining Bethel, Waterbury, Stamford, and Hartford, said Andrew Schilkowski, an office manager for MTS.
MTS agents will scan license plates throughout town and compare the information they collect with the town’s real estate, motor vehicle registration and personal property records to find those not registered in New Milford.
“If a scanned Connecticut plate is not on the town’s grand list, then MTS will dig down deeper,” said Tax Assessor Brian Lastra. “The bottom line, a lot of research goes into the effort of trying to identify vehicles that are located in New Milford and not taxed.”
Schilkowski said the company is a licensed private investigator firm and follows state regulations.
“All of the information we obtain is from public access points,” he said. “If anybody can go in there, our agents go in there.”
This includes checking cars parked in shopping centers and on the street. Most of the scanning is done at night when cars are generally stationary.
Residents can leave anonymous tips online through the company’s website, municipaltaxservices.com, or by calling the office. The MTS agents will then investigate.
The town will then send letters to residents with vehicles not registered in New Milford, letting them know they should register their car in New Milford.
Those who receive the letters can challenge it. Some examples might be that they are visiting a significant other or maybe put a bill in their name to help that person out but live somewhere else and can prove it, Schilkowski said.
“Legally, we’re interested in any instance where a person has established a residence in New Milford and has a motor vehicle which is either registered in Connecticut, is unregistered, or is registered in another state,” Lastra said.
Under state statute a “motor vehicle is subject to tax if such motor vehicle most frequently leaves from and returns to or remains in one or more points within this state,” Lastra said, adding this generally applies to where the person lives.
The town doesn’t pay a fee for the service. Instead, the company collects 50 percent of the taxes collected in the first year, Bass said.
“It’s beneficial,” Bass said. “It’s not a cut to the taxpayer.”
Schilkowski said the amount of money depends on how often the towns pursue the collections.
“We only do the inspection on behalf of the city,” he said.
The proximity to other states, the size of the town and the tax rate itself in each town factor into how much money is collected.
The company generally finds about 500 cars a year in smaller towns, like Bethel and New Milford, he said.
Bass didn’t have an exact figure but suspects New Milford will be able to recoup tens of thousands of dollars the first year after the company takes its share.
Contracts generally last one or two years, giving towns the option to renew, Schilkowski said.
Bass said most of the people moving to town are from New York or lower Fairfield County and said most are unaware that they have to register their vehicle in town.
“We all want to share the burden equally,” Bass said.