In 2017, twenty years after purchasing a property in Fairfield, the owner became aware that the Town had been valuing her 1.06 acre lot as if it held 1.60 acres.
After she alerted the Fairfield Assessor of the mistake, responsibly, he immediately corrected the error and issued tax credits to her for 2014, 2015 and 2016; he also made appropriate adjustments for payments due on the 2017 and 2018 Grand List. Unfortunately, the property owner had also overpaid taxes from her date of acquisition in 1997 through 2013 – another 16 years’ worth of overpayments involving, as she believed, refunds to which she was also entitled.
Connecticut, however, has a well-established statutory procedure for obtaining relief as a result of clerical omissions or mistakes in the tax assessment process. Essentially, the assessor must be alerted to the mistake not later than three years following the relevant tax due date; the property owner may not obtain refunds for prior years. Should the assessor not process the refund request, statutory provision is made for legal action to challenge the decision.
The statutory limitation provision makes sense, Judge Michael Budzik sitting in the New Britain Tax Court ruled, because a “municipality, like any governmental entity, needs to know with reasonable certainty what its tax base is for each fiscal year so that it can responsibly prepare a budget for that year.”
It does not matter how the error occurred. The court noted that the three-year refund request procedure is controlling and limits the town’s liability for tax/administrative mistakes accordingly.
As there was no indication that the Town of Fairfield’s actions somehow prevented the property owner from discovering the mistake, the property owner’s effort to recover her initial 13 years of tax overpayments was rejected.
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