Belmont selectmen through playing games on money owed
July 08, 2009
BELMONT — Selectmen got good news and bad from Town Clerk and Tax Collector Cynthia DeRoy Monday evening.
The good news was that a little more than 80 percent of the 2009 taxes for the first half of the year has been collected to date. This translates to more than $5.9 million dollars in revenue.
Town Administrator Jeanne Beaudin gave them the figure she and DeRoy had come up with that day and said, "This is very encouraging."
On the downside, DeRoy reported that the list of those delinquent for three years is larger than in the past and she has been working to find ways to get people to come in at least make payments on the arrearages. She told the selectmen she is not fond of the eviction process. When a property is taken for back taxes, it is a lengthy process and costs the town money. She stressed, however, that something needs to be done to get homeowners current on their taxes.
"They need to come in and make a payment arrangement of some sort," she said. "Monthly payments- something. I have some who pay $50 a month and that's fine- they're showing an effort at least."
Looking over the list presented to them, Chairman Ron Cormier noted that many of the back taxes owed were not significant amounts of money. This prompted board member David Morse to ask DeRoy and Beaudin if there might be another alternative to deeding the properties.
DeRoy explained that she is investigating the option of taking these taxpayers to small claims court. Costs to proceed through the court are $65 and they will accept claims up to $5,000. Many of the taxes in arrears are for mobile homes in parks throughout the town.
"Typically, towns don't tax deed mobile homes because of the added costs (park fees, etc.)," she told them. "That's why I am looking into small claims court to make them pay."
Selectman Jon Pike said many of these homeowners have nice cars in their driveways and perhaps once they get a judgment from a court that would affect their credit rating, they will realize the town was serious.
Liens on these properties, Beaudin informed him, already affect their credit ratings and hopefully these past due amounts can be discussed and an agreement can be made to catch up on what is still outstanding before it is too late. Many of the mobile home park owners are agreeable to working with the town if they do have to take a property. Some even waive their monthly park fees if the town was to take a home by tax deed.
"Lakes Region Mobile Home Co-Op," she told them, "has been one that's very good to work with. They've replaced them with viable, paying taxpayers- that's the goal."
Also at issue was the matter of overdue water and sewer bills. Beaudin handed the selectmen a list of 84 locations that have not paid their bills. Two are local businesses.
"Why haven't we shut them off then?" Cormier asked.
DeRoy told the board that water can only be shut off in the spring and fall, and sewer is not allowed to be shut off at all. In August she said she would like to send shut off letters to inform those in arrears that the town will indeed be shutting down their water until the bills are paid. Payment arrangements, she and Beaudin both said, would not be an option once those letters are mailed.
Cormier agreed that other service companies such as cable and electric do not allow bills to go unpaid and the town should not either. The board asked that shut off notices be sent in the spring and fall on these quarterly bills so that residents and businesses are no longer able to get that far behind in payments.
"It's not like these bills are a surprise to anyone," Cormier said. "They're never going to catch up."
Beaudin advised the board that these properties can also be deeded by the town for non-payment, even if they cannot shut off the sewer. All three selectmen agreed that the time for "playing games" about these bills be brought to an end. Payment arrangements, if made in a timely fashion, could be made but the customers would also have to remain current with the each quarter's bill they receive.
"This is a service," said Cornier. "Other services don't let you run a bill up in perpetuity."
Disconnect/reconnect fees are $45 and some properties actually owe more in penalty and late fees than the bill was originally for, DeRoy said. There is a 12 percent interest rate charged for late payments.
The board instructed that letters of impending shut off be mailed out in August, with no payment arrangements available after a person or business receives such a letter. Payment in full will be due at that time or water will be shut off. In the matter of sewer payments, the town will investigate deeding the property for non-payment.