- Office of the State Auditor
Media Contact for Expanded Mediation Could Speed Resolution of Cases before the Appellate Tax Board, Audit Shows
Boston — In an audit released today, State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump shows that the Appellate Tax Board’s (ATB) resolution of cases through mediation has helped it process those cases more efficiently, but is underutilized. The audit examined the period of July 1, 2017 through December 31, 2019.
Auditors found that for the 139 appeals closed through mediation during the audit period, it took a median time of 149 days from the date the appeal was initially filed to close it. In contrast, during fiscal years 2014 and 2015, before implementing the Mediation Program, the median time to resolve a dispute was 328 days.
Despite this clear time savings, only approximately 2.7 percent of cases closed during the audit period were resolved through mediation. This is because only Commissioner of Revenue appeals, which involve appeals of personal income taxes, are explicitly offered mediation. However, the vast majority of appeals heard by the ATB involve property taxes, and although ATB officials state that mediation is available for these appeals, it is not listed as an option on the application and therefore was not utilized. The audit encourages the Board to expand its use of mediation to resolve cases more quickly.
“Drawn-out appeals are bad for both taxpayers and taxing authorities, and can clog the Appellate Tax Board’s docket unnecessarily. Mediation is an effective but underutilized tool to quickly resolve appeals,” Bump said. “By explicitly offering mediation on all appeals as appropriate, the ATB can focus its time, attention, and expertise on the complex cases where they are most needed.”
The audit also found the ATB conducted mediation conferences in a timely fashion. However, the report also shows it did not file its annual reports with the legislature with all required information.
The ATB was established in 1929 to hear and decide cases on appeal from decisions made by local and state taxing authorities. It hears appeals on items related to property taxes, personal taxes, income taxes, sales taxes, and more. It has five commissioners appointed by the Governor for six-year staggered terms. During the audit, ATB had 25 employees. It received state appropriations of $2,279,461 and $2,341,510 for fiscal years 2018 and 2019, respectively.