Wilmington Police Chief Joe Szarejko presented a Wilmington Police Citizen Award to Eric and Taylor Craven, who were accepting the award on behalf of their parents, Meredith and Fred Craven. Szarejko explained that police responded to several complaints regarding an individual who was harassing several neighbors, including the Cravens. There were a number of calls during which police responded, took the perpetrator into custody, only to have him released by judicial or mental health authorities. “Throughout this, Fred and Meredith did the right thing. They called us whenever there was an issue, even when the saw that when we arrest someone, the problem didn’t necessarily end. People get released. The mental health system doesn’t always work. But we did our job, and (the Cravens) did their job.”
Szarejko said the situation escalated in April, when Meredith Craven called to report an incident. Szarejko, who said he was the only police officer on duty in the valley at the time, arrived at the scene to find a combative individual. “It turned into a physical confrontation and the guy attacked me,” Szarejko said. “But Fred, who was under the weather with an illness, came down and helped me subdue the guy until another officer could get there and we could get him cuffed and into custody.”
As a result of the incident, Szarejko said, the individual was re-evaluated and placed into the mental health system. The Cravens assisted again by providing witness information regarding the behavior to mental health workers. “Wilmington Police couldn’t have done it without Fred and Meredith,” Szarejko said.
“Thank you to the Wilmington Police Department for being there from my father and our family, and being attentive to what you do on a daily basis,” said Eric Craven. “Stepping in and helping people is what you do all the time, and what my dad did, he would do for anyone in the community.”
In financial matters, the board learned that the projected fiscal 2017 deficit may be higher than originally expected. But perhaps ironically, one of the reasons for the higher deficit is a tax payment deal, not a tax delinquency.
The previous estimate, made two weeks ago, was for a deficit of up to $200,000. At Wednesday evening’s meeting, Wilmington Finance Officer Christine Richter said the deficit could top $300,000. Richter said some of the increase was due to expenditures that hadn’t been expected before the end of the fiscal year. But a secondary reason was that Lorista Holdings, owners of three properties that were slated to go up to tax sale on Thursday, entered into a payment plan with the town at the last minute on Wednesday. Although the deal included an immediate down payment, the rest of the amount owed won’t be paid until August, the 2018 fiscal year. Other properties were also removed from the tax sale list through payment plans with the town. “The good news is that they’ll be paid in August,” Richter reminded board members.
Richter said Thursday’s tax sale would only include six properties, four of which were small lots with little owed in taxes. One of the remaining two was 24 West Main Street, the former Sotheby’s real estate building that was purchased by The Hermitage as a future interior design center.
“We originally anticipated around $57,000 from the tax sale, and now we’re looking at maybe $15,000,” Richter said.
“Is our system of allowing partial payments working against us?” asked selectboard chair Tom Fitzgerald. “It seems like games are being played. At the 11th hour, suddenly people are interested in paying and give us a third of what’s owed.”
Richter said it’s a common annual occurrence. “But not with the amounts that are due this year,” Fitzgerald said.
Richter agreed that the situation, even with the last minute payments, placed the town in a poor position at the end of the fiscal year. And she said there is still a large amount of delinquent tax owed that wasn’t subject to the tax sale. “There’s over $500,000 left delinquent now, but that will probably be collected next year. So next year, we may end up the total opposite of this year.”
Despite the delinquencies and deficit, Richter said the town is not experiencing a cash flow problem and she doesn’t anticipate the need for a loan.
Regarding plans for spending during fiscal 2018, Richter said she and interim town manager Gretchen Havreluk discussed the issue, and agreed that there’s no reason to make budget cuts.
“A better approach might be to start the fiscal year telling department heads to limit spending. If you’re planning to replace something, but it’s not broken, wait until we see how the year is going. Maybe we should do pre-approvals for staff training instead of just signing up and going. Look at what’s planned, and see if you can hold off on it.”
“I think, at this point, we have to notify all the department heads to put all of the spending controls possible in place going into the new fiscal year,” agreed Fitzgerald.