Board member John Gannon called for a review and possible revision of the delinquent tax policies, saying that the town was being “played” by large commercial interests.
“I think we need to look at our tax sale policies and our payment plans,” Gannon said. “I think the payment plans are very valuable to allow people to stay in their homes when they haven’t been able to afford to pay their property tax because they’re struggling to pay a mortgage or something. But there may be situations where that’s the case. We need to develop a procedure that recognizes the difference between those families and the entities that choose not to pay.”
Gannon suggested a system based on a property owner’s ability to pay. Referring to delinquent taxes owed on Hermitage properties, Gannon said it was inconceivable that neither the private resort company nor its principal owner Jim Barnes can’t afford to pay the taxes. “As far as I know, he hasn’t filed for bankruptcy, right?” Gannon said. “So he’s playing us, and don’t think he doesn’t know it.”
“We have to be very careful here,” cautioned selectboard chair Tom Fitzgerald.
Interim Town Manager Gretchen Havreluk interjected that the Hermitage paid their July installment on Friday, June 30. “Wonderful!” said Gannon. “But it’s still an issue for me.”
“We did get played,” agreed Fitzgerald.
“And we are getting played,” Gannon added. “And I think we’re going to get played with the August payments are due. Will they make their first new tax payment on time, or are we going to go through this cycle again?”
Gannon also called for a return to the town’s policy of holding two tax sales per year. Havreluk said the only reason there weren’t two tax sales during the last fiscal year was that the town was in transition between town attorneys.
In other matters, Havreluk said the the town received only one bid for construction of the Reardon Bridge access ramp. She said the bid, from a timber harvesting and trucking company from New Hampshire, initially came in with little more information than a bid amount - $38,400. Havreluk said she asked for an itemization of costs, but said what she received was less than satisfying – particularly regarding the ramp materials, which were listed as “wood and hardware.” According to the design, the ramp will have metal railings. “It’s not fully what we were looking for,” Havreluk said.
Board member Sarah Fisher suggested reissuing an RFP for the project. “With one proposal that’s hard to justify, should we just put it out to bid again?”
“But it’s July now,” Gannon said. “If we go through a new bid process, it’s not going to happen until next year.”
Havreluk said that, under the town’s policy, if a bidding process has been completed and the bids are rejected, the town can contact contractors directly for prices without going through the competitive bidding process. And if the town were to hold a second bidding process, there was also a risk that the bids would come in higher. “But I should add, we did send the RFP to local contractors,” she said.
Former selectboard chair Tom Consolino asked about the possibility of taking the project back to the development review board to modify the permit for an all-wood ramp. “It’s a waste of time to go to them,” said Gannon. “They’ve already told us what they want, and if we go through nine more hearings and get to the same result, it would be a tremendous waste of time.”
As board members pondered whether to accept the current bid or reject it, Havreluk eventually recommended against accepting the bid. “After my conversations with them, I have no confidence in them to be able to complete this project,” she said. “I had several conversations with them to get this (itemized) information, and they’ve had several conversations with Merrill Mundell.”
“Then we should reject this,” said Gannon. “Why waste any more time on it?”
“Their niche is timber harvesting,” noted Fitzgerald, looking at his phone. “I’ve never seen someone in that business say ‘Oh, yes, we also build bridges as well.’ They also have an auto body shop!”
The board voted to reject the bid, and directed Havreluk to seek additional information from contractors.
In other discussions, the board also agreed to raise some transfer station fees. Charges for use of the facility without an annual permit will rise from $4 per visit to $5, the general tipping fee will rise from $30 per cubic yard to $45, and the cost of a large “construction size” trash bag will rise from $2.50 to $4 per bag. The board declined to raise any fees for discounted senior citizen tipping.
The board also approved an “organics pass” for use of the composting program to be instituted at the transfer station. Users can choose a $15 pass that will include a kitchen compost pail, or a $10 pass without the pail.
Havreluk noted that Windham Solid Waste Management will hold a free composting workshop at Wilmington Town Hall at 6 pm on Wednesday, July 12.
The workshop is open to anyone who would like to attend, and will cover subjects such as the benefits of composting, how to start backyard composting, and which organic materials are compostable. The discussion will also include information about the district’s composting program that will be available at the transfer station.