AUGUSTA — Thousands of city residents got a shocker in the mail recently — tax bills saying they owed taxes to a city 60 miles to the south.

The mistake involved about 2,500 city residents receiving tax bills stating the bills were from the city of South Portland for their properties in Augusta. The bills contained accurate figures for the amount of taxes owed, according to City Clerk Barbara Wardwell, but the top of the bill erroneously said “City of South Portland” instead of “City of Augusta.”

Wardwell said the company with which the city contracts to print and mail its tax bills — Scarborough-based DMM — provides that same service to several other municipalities, including South Portland. She said the company sent out about 2,500 bills to Augusta residents earlier this month on stationery meant to be used to send out bills in South Portland.

Augusta taxpayers who received the “South Portland” bills have since been sent new bills at no additional cost to the city, Wardwell said Tuesday.

“It was unfortunate, but has been rectified,” City Manager William Bridgeo said. “It was an understandable mistake. We all make mistakes.”

Wardwell said DMM covered all costs of the corrected tax bills, which were sent out to about 3,000 taxpayers because officials weren’t sure exactly how many had received incorrectly labeled bills.

Some taxpayers said they were confused by the mislabeled bills, and still more were confused when they got a second tax bill with the same amounts a few days later.

“I had one person say they weren’t going to pay until we sent them the right bill,” Wardwell said. “I got a few calls about it. I actually got more calls after the second bill from people wondering why they were getting it.

“They hadn’t noticed” that their first bills said “City of South Portland,” she said.

A note sent with the second bills indicated the first bills contained an error without specifying what was wrong, and it advised recipients to ignore the first bill.

The city has about 10,000 taxpayers, and most received the correct bills, Wardwell said. The incorrect bills went out Aug. 15, and the corrected second bills were sent out within the next week.

Bridgeo said he learned of the error while talking with a resident who pointed out the South Portland stationery. Bridgeo, an Augusta resident, said his own tax bill contained the correct city name.

The veteran city manager said he didn’t recall the city ever having a similar problem with tax bills. Bridgeo said the city has had good results working with DMM, and he does not see the error as a reason to stop doing business with the firm.

A company representative did not return a call seeking comment Tuesday.

Ward 2 City Councilor Darek Grant said he learned of the error from Bridgeo and that his own tax bill was labeled correctly. He said no residents contacted him to express concerns or ask questions about the incorrect bills. The two-term councilor said he did not recall any similar incidents.

“The city is working with the vendor on how do we avoid it happening again,” Grant said. “Unfortunately, mistakes happen. No one likes this kind of mistake, but we’re doing what we can, and the vendor seems to be working to correct the problem.”

Wardwell said while the tax bill amounts were correct, the tax information on the erroneously labeled “South Portland” bills did not line up with the columns printed on the bills, because South Portland has residents pay taxes in three installments, while Augusta has them pay in two installments.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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