The Connecticut Office of Policy and Management (OPM) notified Branford’s tax collector, Roberta Gill-Brooks, as early as May of this year that it was aware of “potential improper receipt and recording of a tax payment,” stating that a check was back dated, interest not collected, and the envelope for the payment had its return address removed.
Gill-Brooks has been the Branford Tax collector for 4 years, and is seeking re-election next month.
The letter states that “if any improper action are found to be accurate, misconduct proceedings and fines may be taken against you as Tax Collector under CGS 12-154 and CGS 12-170.”
As reported by BranfordSeven, an independent audit did substantiate the claims of improper conduct, finding that that the office took actions to waive interest “by posting tax payments on dates prior to the receipt of the tax payment,” essentially changing the date on a payment to avoid interest charges.
That auditor presented their findings last month to the Board of Finance, who then resolved to have Democratic chairman Joe Mooney work with the auditors, town counsel and the Finance Director, Jim Finch, to review the actions that raised issues in the tax department, and “improve internal control” based on the actions of the tax collector, Roberta Gill-Brooks.
The audit which showed no issues in any department except the tax collection department, where auditors stated they found evidence that the office took actions to waive interest “by posting tax payments on dates prior to the receipt of the tax payment,” essentially changing the date on a payment to avoid interest charges.
The report also finds that payments were made directly to principal instead of past interest, and that some residents “paid less in interest during the year that ended June 30, 2020 than they owed in interest as of June 30, 2019, while also paying down their unpaid principal.”
The auditors, Clifton Arson Allen LLP, found that the actions taken in the department cost the town funds, and that the “controls within the Tax department were either insufficient, or the controls were circumvented or overridden to allow for the occurrence of the above noted items.”
The Board of Finance is made up of six members, three Democrats and three Republicans. The chair, Joe Mooney, is a Democrat, as is the current elected tax collector, Gill-Brooks. Robert Imperato, a Republican, recused himself from the vote as he is running for the seat.
All of the remaining members of the Board, three Democrats and two Republicans, voted in favor of the resolution.
The tax department has had a series of issues since Gill-Brooks was hired, moving the town to bring in additional consultants and hire additional staff. Former tax collector Joanne Cleary was hired to help for a short time, and additional staff was added to the department and approved by town bodies this year.
Connecticut statutes referenced by the OPM letter allow for a tax collector to be removed in a process that requires a judge, and allows for fines for misconduct. As the position is elected, there is little the town can do from a disciplinary standpoint; state statute would be the standard. However, the town is looking at ways to make the position appointed and hired based on qualifications, not via election, in the future.