CONWAY — Selectmen on Tuesday said taxpayers who have been delinquent since December should still be sent lien notices; however, they are considering ways to help residents who likely will struggle to pay their June bills due to the economic effects of the coronavirus outbreak.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Town Manager Tom Holmes was attending remotely from home, and Town Engineer Paul DegliAngeli, who sometimes fills in for Holmes, was at the table assisting the selectmen.
Present were chairman David Weathers, and fellow selectmen Mary Carey Seavey and Carl Thibodeau. Selectman John Colbath was participating remotely from Berlin. Selectman Steve Porter was absent.
DegliAngeli led the tax discussion. He said that town clerk/tax collector Louise Inkell has sent out delinquency notices to people who haven’t paid their December property tax bill.
“She (Inkell) would like to issue the notices of lien,” said DegliAngeli. “Now, some of those folks have asked that, given the current situation, if selectman will show any leniency.”
DegliAngeli said he, Holmes and Inkell have talked about it. “The current situation happened after those taxes were due,” said DegliAngeli, noting that many of the delinquent residents are the “usual players.”
He said staff is not recommending any delay in the lien notices, but Inkell wanted selectmen to make the decision.
Selectman Carl Thibodeau agreed but said the situation should be looked at again after the notices of lien are sent. He said the situation is “very fluid.”
“It’s something, again, that we can take on a case-by-case basis at any given selectmen’s meeting at some point down the road,” said Thibodeau.
“I wouldn’t go any further until we have a chance to see what’s happening and reassess.”
Holmes said selectmen can look at each case before taking properties.
Weathers and Seavey were in agreement because the December 2019 taxes were due before the worldwide coronavirus became widespread.
“What’s going to happen in June, that’s completely unknown at this time and not being discussed,” said Weathers, referring to the next property tax cycle. “I’m sure it’s going to generate a lot of discussion, but not to the situation.”
The spring tax bill is sent in June and due by July 1, according to Holmes.
The selectmen voted 4-0 to follow staff’s recommendation that lien notices go out for those who are late paying their December 2019 taxes.
Holmes said there are ways for selectmen to grant relief to taxpayers in the future.
“Of course there is a whole bunch of businesses in town and people, homeowners and so forth, who are out of work and have no money coming in,” said Holmes, who later added that lodging industry representatives and the Mt. Washington Valley Chamber of Commerce have both asked him about property taxes.
Holmes said he looked into the possibility of waiving interest on late taxes. He said the selectmen have “broad powers” to do so but should consult the town counsel (Peter Malia of Hastings Malia in Fryeburg, Maine) before doing so to make sure they are doing it fairly and not opening themselves up to lawsuits.
“So, Paul (DegliAngeli) and I put our heads together and discussed the possibility of allowing people to pay their taxes in four equal payments (over four months before the December bill is due),” said Holmes, proposing that if taxpayers did that, then interest could be waived.
In other words, if approved, the July tax bill could be broken into four equal chunks spread between July and October. Only one bill (due July 1) would go out, but the taxpayers, if selectmen agree, would have the option of paying it in installments over the course of four months. Then if the taxpayer makes each payment on time there would be no interest.
The rationale behind the proposal is that four small payments are more manageable than one large payment.
Whether the town breaks the total tax bill into pieces or not, the town will likely experience a cash flow problem because of people unable to pay. Holmes said it’s likely the town will have to borrow to cover its expenses.
The town also collects taxes on behalf of the Conway School District, Carroll County, precincts and the state (for education).
“In order to offer some measure of property tax relief, I believe the selectmen do have the power to consider waiving interest and accepting payments over time,” said Holmes.
If the selectmen don’t waive the interest, those paying the July and December bills late can expect to pay 8 percent interest per year. Those paying after May 7, when properties go to lien, would pay 14 percent interest per year.
Ultimately the selectmen decided to table the discussion of breaking the June/July tax bill into smaller chunks. The selectmen decided they would talk about it again in late April.
DegliAngeli said the selectmen have a couple of weeks to think about it before the tax bills need to be printed.
“I don’t think we need to get into a great lengthy discussion over this right now,” said Thibodeau.
“In two or three weeks, we can we can take it up if the situation is still dire. But right now, I think we’re just wasting air, to be perfectly honest with you.”