Taxation FAQ 16

Under Wis. Stat. § 74.69, a property tax payment is considered timely paid if “it is mailed in a properly addressed envelope, postmarked before midnight of the prescribed due date for making the payment, with postage prepaid, and is received by the proper official, regardless of when it is received.” What does the term “postmarked” mean for purposes of this statute? More specifically, if an envelope has a non-USPS postage meter stamp applied to it showing a date before midnight of the prescribed due date, does that qualify as “postmarked” for purposes of the statute? 

It is unclear whether a non-US Postal Service (USPS) mark on an envelope, such as a stamp made by a postage meter machine, qualifies as “postmarked” for purposes of determining whether a mailed property tax payment is timely paid. The term “postmarked” is not defined in Ch. 74 or anywhere else in the Wisconsin Statutes. Nor is it defined in the Wisconsin Administrative Code. In addition, no Wisconsin published court decisions have interpreted or defined the term “postmarked.” Courts in other states have concluded that a postage meter stamp is a “postmark,” reasoning that the USPS strictly regulates the use of postage meters thereby safeguarding its evidentiary value as to the date of mailing. See, for example, Lozier Corporation v. Douglas Cunty Board of Equalization, 285 Neb. 705, 895 N.W.2d 652 (2013); Bowman v. Administrator, Ohio Bureau of Employment Services, 30 Ohio St.3rd 87, 507 N.E.2d 342 (1987). Other courts have rejected such a reading and concluded that only a USPS mark qualifies as a postmark for purposes of indicating the date an item was mailed. See, for example, Smith v. Idaho Dept. of Labor, 148 Idaho 72, 218 P.3d 1133 (2009); Lin v. Unemployment Comp Bd. of Review, 558 Pa. 94, 735 A.2d 697 (1999).

In the absence of a statutory or case law definition, a court will give statutory language its plain and ordinary meaning.

The USPS defines “postmark” as:

A postal imprint made on letters, flats, and parcels that shows the name of the Post Office that accepts custody of the mail, along with the two-letter state abbreviation and ZIP Code of the Post Office, and for some types of mail the date of mailing, and the time abbreviation a.m. or p.m. The postmark is generally applied, either by machine or hand, with cancellation or killer bars to indicate that the postage cannot be reused. United States Postal Service, Glossary of Terms, terms.htm  

Blacks Law Dictionary (11th edition) defines a “postmark” as “an official mark put by the post office on an item of mail to cancel the stamp and to indicate the place and date of sending or receipt.” Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines “postmark” as “an official postal marking on a piece of mail; specifically: a mark showing the post office and date of mailing.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster,

Each of these definitions indicates that a “postmark” is an official mark or imprint made by the post office. These definitions would seem to preclude non-USPS marks, such as those made by private postage meter machines, from qualifying as a “postmark” under Wis. Stat. § 74.69.

Still, much business mail is processed by postage meter machines. Moreover, the USPS licenses and regulates the use of postage meters. Only authorized entities, such as Pitney Bowes, can provide postage meters and only the USPS may own a postage meter. Lozier Corp. v. Douglas County Bd. of Equalization, 829 N.W.2d at 660.

Additionally, the Legislature presumably was aware that there were various types of postmarks and chose not to specify or otherwise define the term “postmarked” in § 74.69. Arguably, if the Legislature had meant the term “postmarked” to mean only a USPS postmark, it could have said so explicitly.

Clearly, a mark made by the USPS on an envelope indicating the state and zip code of the post office and the date of mailing qualifies as a “postmark” for purposes of determining whether a property tax payment was timely paid under Wis. Stat. § 74.69. It is less clear that a stamp made by a postage meter machine also qualifies as a “postmark” under § 74.69, though a court might reasonably conclude as such. (New 8/20)