After late fee hit, Weston resident suggests altering tax payment policy

Weston resident David Johnson was a day late on his taxes and astonished by the late fee. All photos by Bruce Frauman.

By Bruce Frauman
© 2017 Telegraph Publishing LLC

An $867 late fee for property taxes caused two very different reactions that were aired at the Nov. 14 Weston Select Board meeting.

Steve Johnson said he mixed up the deadline to pay his taxes and arrived  at 8 a.m. on the day after they were due. Town Clerk and Treasurer Kim Seymour charged him the required 8 percent late fee and, according to Town Administrator Cheryl Barker, voices were raised.

Seymour said Johnson returned later to pay a portion of the fee in pennies, about 4,000 in all, in a bucket so heavy she couldn’t even lift it.  Johnson later said he would redistribute the pennies into more containers, and contended that “there ought to be a 10-day grace period.”

Johnson said he wanted to pay the town tax collector, Sandra Goodwin, directly, but was unable to make that arrangement. He said Goodwin “makes real good money for taking advantage of poor people.”

Treasurer Kim Seymour does not want to hold lots of cash at Town Office.

Seymour said he was uncomfortable with the idea of holding lots of cash in the clerk’s office. She also proposed tax payment policy that would require the use of checks or credit cards to make payments at the Town Office, but not cash. She suggested that cash payments be taken directly to the town’s bank. “The deposit receipt must then be brought or mailed to the Town Treasurer before a town receipt can be provided to the taxpayer,” she said.

Seymour told The Telegraph that the late fee of 8 percent goes to the tax collector, who is not on the town payroll. In addition, the 1 percent interest charged each month goes to the town. This rises to 1.5 percent after three months. Seymour called the day after taxes are due “the worst day of the year” for her.

Board chair Denis Benson is seeking a legal opinion on changes to the tax policy proposals.

She requested that residents not wait until the last day to pay their taxes. The town does need the money, she said, as twice a year, about $1 million is due to the state. During the meeting, Seymour said that since Goodwin has been the tax collector, delinquent taxes have been very low. 

Board Chair Denis Benson said he would like to see a written legal opinion on the proposed tax payment policy. Seymour said she would get one. Board members Ann Fuji’i and Bruce Downer wanted more time to read the policy before voting on it. The policy will be discussed again at the board’s Dec. 12 meeting.

Johnson said that if the the Select Board does pass the no cash policy, he would oppose it and ask for a vote at Town Meeting in March.

In early September, the Town of Chester adopted a grace period and a lower initial percentage for those who are late with tax payments, which are due in mid-September. The new policy gives taxpayers one day after taxes are due to settle up without penalty or interest. After that, the penalty on the unpaid balance until Oct. 1 is 3 percent and 5 percent after that. Interest of 1 percent for the first three months of delinquency and 1.5 percent thereafter remains unchanged. 

Weston at the crossroads

The agenda item labeled “Crossroads” was moved to the Nov. 28 meeting so that absent board member Jim Linville could participate, but a discussion ensued anyway. Fuji’i wanted clarification as to whether this was about town roads or about “how we see Weston in the future.” She was referring to comments made by chair Benson in late October in which he said that people move in from other areas and want to apply rules and regulations from elsewhere to Weston. The way the town is going, Benson said on Tuesday, there will be “so many rules and regulations that people will not want to live here anymore.” He noted that people from “down country towns” come here to get away, yet they also want to bring aspects of their former towns to Weston, so that “soon we will be just like them.”

Watershed Alliance seeks funds

In other news, Southeastern Watershed Alliance Director Gloria Cristelli

Watershed Alliance rep Gloria Cristelli is seeking funds from the town to aid in their water monitoring.

offered the board a detailed description of the group’s activities and asked for a $350 appropriation from Weston to help fund its $17,000 annual budget. Cristelli said that since 1973, volunteers have been obtaining samples from the West River and others every two weeks, which are then sent to one of two labs for analysis. Results are sent to local news outlets as well as posted at post offices and town halls.

If e-coli levels, especially, are reading above safe levels, residents are warned not to swim in the river, and the state will come in to take action. This is especially likely after a high rainfall.

Last summer, Cristilli said the Alliance wanted to begin testing in Weston, but no volunteer testers were found. Of the 16 towns and two villages in the Alliance, eight support it financially. Londonderry Conservation Commission chair Irwin Kuperberg said the SCWA does important work that benefits everybody.

Cristilli is also on a campaign to control the spread of Japanese knotweed. While no action was taken on the request, the Select Board will consider it in the new budget.

Pajala talks regional, state issues

Londonderry Town Clerk Kelly Pajala came to the board to introduce herself, get to know the towns and “make myself available” as she seeks to be appointed to replace state Rep. Oliver Olsen, who resigned as of Nov. 1. She will meet with Gov. Phil Scott on Monday, Nov. 20 and is waiting, like everyone else, to see who he will appoint.

Kelly Pajala, who is seeking appointment to Rep. Olsen’s seat, speaks to the board.

Pajala said she knows Weston pretty well, “having lived here most of my life.” When asked for her  opinion of the state’s drug problem, Pajala said that treatment is extremely important and that she will learn more about it. Asked by Downer to name three things she would like to see happen to improve Vermont, Pajala chose economic development, utility infrastructure — especially fiber and cable — and education. Pajala suggested agri-tourism as potential economic development in response to a question from Fuji’i.

As for school choice, Pajala said that the recent school district consolidation is not a bad thing, that towns with school choice fight to keep it, and people buy into this area because of school choice.

Pajala said that she intends to run for the open seat next fall whether she is appointed or not. She said, “If I get appointed, I’ll make a point of being around.”

And Richard Lechthaler was appointed to the Cemetery Commission until town meeting to fill a vacant position.

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