The City of Nicoya stopped judicial charges on late taxpayers in Barrio San Martin who had accumulated 320 million colons in debt for not paying taxes (some $532K).
Judicial charges are determined by courts for people behind with debts who can be fined and have their possessions confiscated if they don’t pay them.
The Voice of Guanacaste talked with those involved in this problem, but the versions are different. The head of city billing Jessica Mohr and the mayor Marco Jimenez (who is suspended) blamed each other.
According to Mohr’s report, the rule is implemented in the first months of each administration, which began in May 2010 for the mayor. She said that Jimenez ordered to stop judicially charging these debts but said that she doesn’t have any document to prove it because the conversation was oral and wasn’t documented.
Asked by this newspaper, Jimenez said that he had a conversation with her but denied ordering to stop issuing judicial charges. “Jessica has never received orders of any kind,” Jimenez said. (See interview.)
What they do agree on is that they spoke about the social vulnerability and economic issues of residents in the neighborhood.
San Martin accounts for 50% of the population of Nicoya. “It’s towns grow much vaster and it’s considered an at-risk population, according to a study by the Housing Ministry.
This neighborhood alone accounts for 14% of the pending late charges, which total ¢2.2 billion).
By the time this newspaper went to print, Mohr didn’t send the information about how many of the cases of judicial charges that San Martin are pending.
She also didn’t’ say how many of those charges have expired, but annually the department sends debt notifications to taxpayers so debts don’t expire. That way the city doesn’t miss out on the possibility of collecting the money.
Representative and San Martin Resident Amanda Macotelo said that she once had a conversation with Jimenez about taxe payment in the neighborhood. “He told me that there were a lot of people who wasn’t paying and that they could lose their homes,” she says. “But at no point did he told me about an order of not billing.”
Macotelo believes that the residents don’t pay for a lack of awareness. “They have never been told or they haven’t gone to ask,” she says.
The president of the development association Manuel Alberto Chacon says that he hasn’t heard any comment about the issue. “I’ve never heard anything and I don’t know what to say.”
According to Mohr, the city rule states that judicial charges are charged with the taxpayer who don’t pay his city taxes for at least three months. She added that her department prioritizes the biggest and oldest debts.
In order to charge them, the billing department sends information about the debt and the taxpayer to an attorney who takes charge of writing the lawsuit.
Then the lawyer sends it to the mayor to sign and presents it to the courts.
The city lawyer for legal matters Manuel Vargas said that when they file lawsuits for charges in San Martin the mayor rejects them and they finally stopped coming.
We stopped sending them because the mayor wouldn’t sign them for San Martin,” said Mohr.
A Written Order to Reverse the Oral One
Mohr admits that this isn’t right and that it affects public finances. But she hasn’t done anything to fix it.
In a city council meeting in September 2018, mayor Adriana Rodriguez told Mohr to change the policy. Rodriguez told The Voice of Guanacaste that she has told her on several occasions, but Mohr insists on having written orders to do so.
After the first interview on this matter, the mayor got in touch with this newspaper again to indicate that she demanded that Mohr change the policy.
If she doesn’t change it I am going to request explanations and for her to take responsibility,” Rodriguez said. She is saying that in Jessica Mohr’s case not changing the differentiated treatment for taxpayers in San Martin could call attention and lead to an investigation.
Jiménez Admits Differentiated Treatment for San Martín
Mohr and Jimenez agree that they had a conversation about written billing for taxes in San Martin, but no document shows what they really talked about.
This is an extract of the interview with the suspended mayor Marco Jimenez edited for brevity.
-Did you give the order to stop issuing late fee bills as Jessica Mohr states?
Jessica never received an order of that nature. What was told to Jessica Mohr then? In the cases where there were socio economic issues, to study each one of them case by case to give them a differentiated treatment so that they would have much more time to pay their obligations to the city.
-Is there documented proof of that?
No, we talked about it.
-Don’t you think that this happend incorrectly by having this conversation, that it has reprecussions for finances without documented proof?
What we talked about then was when there are people too poor that they have problems paying their obligations to the city and to do a study because the law allows not charging people. That’s what we talked about.
-Should there have been a document to back up the conversation?
She should have asked in written form. Jessica asked me and I answered Jessica concretely. You don’t have to issue an order when the law is clear.
-If the charges are accumulating from your first administration, how did you not realize what was happening?
We collected according to what Jessica ordered.
-You never found out about what was happening?
What we had was a very general report on debt, late payments and what was pending for collection. The mayor doesn’t determine who to charge and who not to. That’s why there is a special office for that. Long before I came to city hall this was going on. Now I know for sure because of the comments made by Mohr.