HANSON — Residents will receive an extra month to pay tax bills due May 1, as the Board of Selectmen on Tuesday, April 14 votes to extend tax bill payment deadlines to June 1.
Meeting remotely via the Go To Meeting teleconferencing app, Town Administrator John Stanbrook told the board he has met to discuss the issue with Tax Collector Jean Sullivan several times over the past week to go over a new law passed last week with the Department of Revenue.
Hardship appeals, as advocated by Selectman Matt Dyer last week, are not allowed under the new law which only permits towns to either change the due date or not.
Bills can’t be limited to real estate or personal property, either. Penalties and interest must be waived on all bills — motor vehicle excise, real estate and personal property taxes and water bills issued after March 10.
“It’s either all or nothing,” Stanbrook said. “We can’t set a due date in between May 1 and June 30 to start charging interest. It’s either we set the date at May 1 or we set the date at June 30 … there’s no gray area in between.”
The three options open to Selectmen were to move the due date of all the bills from May 1 to June 1 with interest or penalties kicking in after June 1; keep the May 1 due date with no interest or fees applied until June 30; or make no changes at all.
Sullivan recommended the first option, which would mean the loss of only one month’s interest, according to Stanbrook.
In 2019 interest and fees revenue for May was $19,329 — $9,700 for motor vehicle excise; $7,900 for real estate and personal property and $1,640 for water bills in rounded figures. June interest and fees were $12,890 — $5,800 for motor vehicle excise; $6,200 for real estate and personal property and $800 for water bills in rounded figures. The total for both months was about $32,200.
Dyer asked if postponing payments would be detrimental to the town’s financial health. Stanbrook said he did not think so.
“It’s significant money, but it’s not break-the-bank, there’s-no-way-we-can-recover money,” Stanbrook said. He agreed with Dyer that the amounts owed are not forgiven, the due dates are just being pushed back.
“I think we have to look out for the little guy that may not be able to afford that bill because they were laid off from their job this time, and help them out where we can,” Dyer said. “We’re here to serve the public.”
Selectmen also voted to declare Recreation Department employees as non-essential during the corona virus emergency, and to establish an official town Facebook page.
Stanbrook had made his initial designation of essential and non-essential personnel in accordance with Gov. Baker’s March 12 emergency declaration. Town Counsel, however, has determined it is up to the Board of Selectmen to make such designations.
The recreation director, administrative assistant — both working from home — and caretaker are being paid, but the caretakers are not working, Selectmen Chairman Laura FitzGerald-Kemmett said, adding there are maintenance tasks that could be done while observing physical distancing.
Town Counsel Kate Feodoroff has told Stanbrook that caretakers can be considered essential if their work is needed to ensure safety and sanitation at Camp Kiwanee or if the lack of maintenance could have long-term impacts.
Dyer said that, with little to nothing scheduled at the camp, there is no need for staff there, but recommended that the director inspect the camp at least once a week to make sure there is no vandalism in addition to police patrols.
Selectman Kenny Mitchell said he was “on the fence” and that, either all staff should be working or they should all stay at home. Selectmen James Hickey and Wes Blauss agreed that, while office staff can work at home on bookings for functions next year, there is no pressing need for caretakers to be there right now.
“We’ve been discussing social media or engaging citizens for three years, now,” FitzGerald-Kemmett said on the official town Facebook page issue, noting that Stanbrook picked up on work begun by former Town Administrator Michael McCue. “This is another way to reach people.”
IT Director Ryan McGonniagle has been working to link town websites to permit updates to post to the town’s Facebook page if officials choose, including agendas, Town Meeting warrants, voting information and other similar information that only Stanbrook or Executive Assistant Greer Getzen would be permitted to post. The comment section on the page would be closed to the public at the strong recommendation of Town Counsel, but contact information would be included.
Dyer added a provision that a two-person citizen at-large committee be appointed to assist in running the page.
The vote was 3-2 with Hickey and Blauss voting against the proposal. Blauss was concerned about people without Facebook missing important information.
“I feel it’s going to make for an uneven playing field,” Blauss said, favoring a single town website and worrying about the fake news aspect of the social media platform. “Somewhere down the road it’s going to bite us when, for a hearing or something, someone says ‘Well, I don’t have Facebook, so I was never notified.”
Hickey expressed concern about the time it would take Stanbrook and Getzen when there are so many other more pressing matters before them, advocating putting the change on hold for now.