By early afternoon Wednesday, Maureen Niemi, tax collector for the town of Barnstable on Cape Cod observed, "we have 30-thousand tax payers in Barnstable and I think we've received a phone call or email from every one of them".
In towns across Cape Cod and the rest of the country, millions of homeowners are trying to get ahead of new tax rules signed into law last week by President Trump that take effect January 1st. The rules restrict the amount of local taxes homeowners can deduct from their income taxes. Beginning next week, state and local income, property and sales taxes in excess of $10,000 will be taxed as income. Interest on mortgages up to $750,000 will be deductible, down from the current $1,000,000 limit.
With the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act signed into law so late in the calendar year, homeowners have little time to strategize. So they're turning to their town tax collector for answers. "We had 30 voicemails waiting for us when we opened the office today", said Amy Bullock, tax collector for Harwich. "Normally we have one or two". People are asking if they can pay 2018 taxes before the new year, Bullock said.
The average property tax bill in Harwich is $4,300 said Bullock, which leaves the typical homeowner with only $5,700 remaining for state and local income and sales taxes. It isn't just the higher-end property owners asking about the new rules, inquiries are pouring in about a range or property values, according to tax collectors across the Cape.
In Falmouth, a woman identifying herself as Peggy from the tax collector's office said the phone "has been ringing off the hook" all day. Most people are doing the math and asking for the annual amount of their tax bill, Peggy said.
Towns on Cape Cod operate on a fiscal calendar, which begins July 1st each year. Current tax bills approved by the town assessor is fixed for the first two fiscal quarters of 2018. Prepaying these before the new year will allow homeowners to deduct the full amount on this year's income taxes. However, any prepayment beyond fiscal 2017 will not be applicable to this year's income taxes, according to the IRS.
While tax collectors are getting inundated with questions about the new tax laws, they stress they cannot give advice on how to best reduce a total tax income tax bill. "I have had to start telling people that I am not an accountant" says Barnstable's Niemi. "We can give them the amounts due for what has already been billed, we can tell them when the next bills will be issued, but we cannot interpret the new tax code for them".
James Rubel contributed to this article.