Tax & Accounting Blog

One Citizen’s View of Data Quality

Aumentum, Blog October 4, 2013

I live in a large U.S. city (which for purposes of impartiality will not be named, however beautiful the spring cherry blossoms may be). One day I received a knock on my door. It was our 92-year old neighbor Mrs. Alberta. In her hand was a document which she asked that I review. It was a court summons. Then bounded up the front steps was Mrs. Alberta’s daughter Sherelle, also no spring-chicken herself nearing 70. Sherelle explained that for the past three years they have been going back and forth with the city government. The court summons was prompted by their family contesting past-due property tax bills. The city was considering putting a lien on their property.

The story gets more complicated.

The reason Mrs. Alberta didn’t pay this tax bill was because the land parcel in question – a small parking space behind the house, wasn’t in fact her parcel. It’s my family’s parcel. Some thirty years prior Mrs. Alberta sold this sub-parcel to the past owners of our house, and although the parcel is recorded on our deed, the municipal deeds recording office didn’t notify the assessor’s office of the sale.

For many years this was a non-issue, as the government didn’t tax these parcels. However, with rising property values, the government changed policy to tax these sub-parcels of land. For a couple of years Mrs. Alberta kept receiving the tax bills, but seeing that she is well into her years simply ignored these new bills for a property that she (correctly) believed didn’t belong to her. It wasn’t until the city threatened a lien that her daughter took notice. Her daughter wrote and then called the municipal government – the deeds office and the assessor’s office, but the issue could only be resolved in a municipal court. So these two ladies were on my door step requesting that I come with them to court. I would need to appear with them to produce evidence that this was indeed our parcel and to testify that I would assume personal responsibility for the past due amounts plus penalties.

So Mrs. Alberta, her daughter, and I went to the municipal court. The proceedings were straight forward and simple. At the end I asked the judge if the courts could send a notice to the assessor’s office to correct their records. The judge informed me that I would need to take this up with both the deeds office and the assessor’s office. This resulted in more letters and more visits to government offices.

From a citizen’s perspective, I understand the importance of data quality. Because the process for the deeds office to inform the assessor’s office of the parcel ownership change never occurred, it set off a chain reaction involving the tax office and eventually the courts. Mrs. Alberta, her daughter, and I committed at minimum 40 hours of collective time writing letters, making calls, and visiting government offices.

As the mission of government is to serve the people, government has an obligation to best manage public information efficiently and accurately. So this is why I see data quality as an important topic. More so, it’s important for us at Thomson Reuters to bare in mind that when working with our government customers, it’s not just those government customers’ experience which is important, but also how we’re better enabling our government customers to serve their constituents – the public; citizens such as Mrs. Alberta.