In April, Portland resident Mark Gharst filed a four-month extension on his federal and state taxes—an extension that also covers Multnomah County's so-called ITAX, approved by voters two years ago in an effort to pull in more revenue to fund schools and county services.
When that extension ran out in mid-August, Gharst went ahead and paid his taxes. But a week later, he received an "adjustment" notice from the county informing him that he owed six percent interest plus a 25 percent late fee—five percent for failing to pay by April 15 and 20 percent for failing to pay by July 15.
Sure, in the past, Gharst has supported the county tax, but Gharst was taken back by the steep penalties. Concerned, he looked further at the late payment policy contained in the tax literature and discovered that the extra 20 percent was being applied illegally. The literature clearly states that the county will follow state policy—which allows for the five percent fee and an additional 20 percent fee only if the payment comes in after the extension date.
Gharst was not about to be unduly penalized, so he fired off a series of e-mails to the county. What happened next surprised him: Satish Nath, the director of the ITAX program, quickly admitted the mistake and offered to wipe off the extra 20 percent. That was great, but Gharst worried that the same "oversight" was being applied to other taxpayers. In turn, he pressed the county to refund the 20 percent late fees to others who had paid after April 15, but before their extensions expired.
Gharst says he expected a fight. On the contrary: the ITAX department agreed to begin sending out refunds to affected taxpayers. "I'm totally surprised the county didn't fight it," he told the Mercury.
Admittedly, the extra 20 percent doesn't add up to a mountain of money for most people, but given that the county has come under plenty of fire for being both unresponsive and inconsistently administering the tax, it's laudable that officials responded in a timely manner to the concerns of a single citizen and shifted their policies.