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Selectmen object to bill cutting interest on late taxes

BLACK'S IS BACK IN BUSINESS. Reopening its doors Feb. 14 after flooding caused the store to shut down and initiated a store-wide reorganization, Black’s is back in business. A regular shopper at Black’s, Gail Dietzer, is happy to frequent the paper store once again. A store associate since fall Jeremy Glidden said of working in the renovated store, “I definitely love it. You can find things easily now.” (Heather Terragni photo) (click for larger version)
February 24, 2011
WOLFEBORO — Tax Collector Brenda LaPointe came before the Board of Selectmen at their Feb. 16 meeting to ask the board to write a letter opposing HB 457, a bill to reduce the interest rate on late and delinquent property taxes by half.

According to the NH Tax Collectors Association, this is the second time Rep. Steve Vaillancourt (R-Manchester) has submitted this bill, which reduces the interest rate on a number of late and delinquent taxes, including property taxes, current use change taxes, and excavation taxes, by 50 percent. In most cases the reduction is from 18 to nine percent. If passed, the new law would take effect April 1. It is not yet clear whether the new rates would apply to new balances or also to outstanding unpaid taxes as of that date.

According to the New Hampshire Municipal Association, total revenues for interest and penalties for delinquent taxes statewide were $17,242,579. Thus the cost to the states 234 cities and towns from cutting the rates would be $8.6 million.

According to LaPointe, in 2010 Wolfeboro received $235,679.99 in revenues on uncollected taxes. Therefore the loss of revenue would be $117,840, an amount that, if cut, would have to be made up from higher taxes on everyone else's properties.

The rate was raised to 18 percent years ago when the prime rate was high and therefore credit card rates were high. At that time the rate was six percent in most towns. Some property owners delayed paying property taxes to pay down credit card balances instead. Since the town has to wait three years before taking a property for unpaid taxes, many property owners waited that long before paying. This in turn forced some towns to borrow in anticipation of taxes, and the interest rate was set in part on how far behind the town was in collecting taxes, thus adding more cost to taxpayers.

Since credit card rates have once more risen to 15-18 percent, the concern is that lowering the interest rate now would encourage a return of that problem.

LaPointe said that the town is prepared to work with property owners on tax payment plans, so people truly in difficult circumstances can be helped.

On a unanimous 4-0 vote selectmen directed Town Manager Dave Owen to prepare a letter opposing HB 457 for their signatures.

Public Works report

Public Works Director Dave Ford gave a status report on the 2011 snow removal budget as of Feb. 6, five weeks into the 20 week snow season that also includes November and December.

Ford said the town doesn't have a "snow budget," but snow removal does affect five specific parts of the Public Works budget. Overall after completing 25 percent of the season the department has spent 34.1 percent of its budget. Ford's main concerns were with cost of downtown snow removal, which is done in part with outside contractors, and the cost of diesel fuel. Through five weeks 90.2 percent of the downtown removal budget has been spent, and the 42.5 percent of diesel fuel budget has been used. Part of the problem with diesel is that the price is now $3.15 per gallon vs. the budget cost of $2.65 a gallon.

Since it is hard to predict the weather, Ford said that there is no need to panic about the budget. He promised he will report monthly on the issue, and if he goes over budget in this area, he will find projects to defer to make up the difference.

At the Deliberative Session Ford was asked how much Wolfeboro's roads cost per mile. He provided selectmen with an analysis of the highway department budget that showed, after making some adjustments, that the cost per mile was $11,631.26 per year for the 64 miles of roads in Wolfeboro.

Ford reported that the Route 28 Corridor Study is in the process of preparing for a second stakeholders meeting in April which will show a plan that incorporates feedback received at the first session. He reminded the board that the object of the study is to prepare a plan so that the project is ready to go when money is available in the state's 10-year transportation plan. The original proposal to rebuild Route 28 from the Alton line to Pickering Corner was cut from the 10-year plan in 2007. In 2009 it was named the top project in the area by the Lakes Region Planning Commission, but in the meantime the funding for the 10-year plan was cut for $350 million to $285 million. Barring an increase in funding Route 28's turn may not come until 2022.

Selectmen agreed to sign a letter to William Cass at the NH Department of Transportation stating the project has the full support of the Board of Selectmen and town staff.

The bulk of Ford's report to the board was a review of the status of 13 open capital projects approved by voters between 2006 and 2010. The $8.1 million effluent disposal project is complete, but the town is still retaining $63,011 on the Rapid Infiltration Basin construction. The 2009 and 2010 town road upgrades came in under budget, though part of the combined $102,332 in savings will be used to do final paving on Bay Street in the spring. The Railroad Station project came in under budget by $3,656, and the Dockside reconstruction is complete except for final masonry work on the Main Street bridge in the spring.

There has been a major holdup on water, sewer and road projects involving Center, Lehner and Glendon Streets due to state paperwork delays on funding sidewalk construction between Carpenter School and Foss Field. Right now Ford projects that construction on those projects will not begin until late summer.

Ford also reported that effluent levels dropped in 2010 from 400,000 gallons per day to 340,000 – a big drop reflecting reduced water usage and infiltration of sewer pipes.

Other business

Selectmen approved a computer use policy for employees using town-owned computers. The policy imposes restrictions on how computers, the Internet and e-mail can be used. Among other things, use of town computers for accessing chat rooms, social networking sites, playing games, downloading software for personal use or accessing pornography is prohibited.

The board approved a request by the Wolfeboro Area Chamber of Commerce to use the space in the Railroad Station vacated for three months in the summer by the Wolfeboro Nursery School. The Chamber will cover the cost of utilities and taxes during the period. The intent is to provide rotating booth space for Chamber members during the tourist season. The arrangement saves the town the cost of advertising for a short-term tenant and the unknowns in whatever use is made of the space.

Selectmen asked Owen to invite NH House representative and Senator Bradley to it regular meeting of March 16. Selectman Chuck Storm will not be available but there will be a fifth selectmen in place by then.

Owen announced that a broadcast of the Deliberative Session is now available as streaming video on the town Web site, www.wolfeboronh.us. Just click on "Town Warrant Articles Presentation" on the Home page; the broadcast is indexed by warrant article number. This is a demonstration of streaming video, prepared with the help of Wolfeboro Community TV, that could allow residents without access to Metrocast cable to view town meetings.

The next regular meeting of the Wolfeboro Board of Selectmen will be on Wednesday, March 2 at 6:30 p.m. at the Public Library meeting room.

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Martin Lord Osman
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