Weston’s property tax collecting policy under scrutiny

David Johnson intends to petition to bring the tax policy issue to public vote. All photos by Bruce Frauman.

By Bruce Frauman
©2017 Telegraph Publishing LLC

Changes to Weston’s property tax-collecting policy could be on the horizon, after one resident caused an uproar recently by paying part of a late fee with four thousand pennies.

That resident, David Johnson, now wants to petition to ask town voters to approve establishing a grace period and a gradual increase in the penalty for late payment.  He will have to get 25 signatures to put the issue on the March 2018 ballot.

Board member Ann Fuji’i noted that Chester recently passed a similar ordinance and said the wording is important to get correct.  Board chair Denis Benson said Town Administrator Cheryl Barker could provide old petitions as examples to get the key wording correct.

In the meantime, Town Clerk/Treasurer Kim Seymour also has proposed a new policy on accepting payments that would force residents to make cash payments directly at the town’s bank, while checks and credit cards would be accepted at the town office.

Benson asked the board to consider moving the payment of taxes due date back a week to Oct. 8 or 9  to allow people to pull money out of their investments. He also said that people need to be aware that Seymour can scan the checks and make the deposit right from the office, so the money needs to be in the account when the payment is made.

GNAT-TV’s Tammie Reilly will ask the town to approve a $2,000 appropriation for the service.

GNAT-TV to seek $2,000

GNAT-TV Executive Director Tammie Reilly will be returning to the Weston Town Meeting in March 2018 to ask the voters to approve a $2,000 request to provide videotaping of Select Board meetings.

During the 2017 budgeting process, the Select Board cut the $2,000 request by three-quarters, and voters approved the $500 at Town Meeting in March.

In seeking $2,000, Reilly spoke before the Weston Select Board on Tuesday, Nov. 28, saying that GNAT provides training, use of video equipment, studio space and more to interested residents. GNAT, she added, also tapes each Select Board meeting, which are available on Comcast Channel 10 as well as on demand on gnat-tv.org.

Resident Donald Hart said he voted against the appropriation last March because of difficulties with the quality of the broadcast signal, including missing audio.

Board member Charles Goodwin says he sees a benefit in GNAT-TV.

Reilly said that, at the time, GNAT spoke with Hart once a week for a while and she spoke daily with Comcast, until the situation was resolved.

Benson asked Reilly why GNAT doesn’t ask that the state seek more money from Comcast. Reilly said the funding formulas are complicated and Comcast is appealing its Certificate of Public Good, so negotiations with GNAT and other stations have been suspended.

According to an August report in VT Digger, under its current certificate, Comcast objected to “several provisions related to its responsibilities for supporting public access television. The telecom also asked regulators to drop a requirement that it expand its service areas with 550 miles of line extensions before the end of 2027, when the new permit expires.”

Benson complained that the appropriations list continues to grow, from $50,000 a few years ago to pushing $100,000 now. “It is an endless struggle to try to keep it in check. Every year we get two or three more. We are not an endless pit.” Reilly said she understands, but that it costs more than $2,000 to provide the service to Weston.

Board member Charles Goodwin said, “We’d like to get feedback from the voters.”  He added that there was a lot of value with GNAT, including the ability to stream online.

Snow shoveling, Longley Loop and budget meetings

A motion to award a town employee a bid to shovel snow around town property caused a mini-kerfuffle when one bidder withdrew his bid saying he could not be expected to compete with an employee who’s liability insurance is paid for by the town.

The board tabled action on snow shoveling bids after Duane Hart, pictured, objected to the choice.

When Goodwin made a motion to accept the bid of $15 per hour bid from town employee Byron Hart, Duane Hart, of Hart’s All Season Maintenance, objected. Benson suggested the town go with Byron Hart until they can get a legal opinion. Goodwin withdrew his motion, and the board decided to table the bids until the legality of a town employee bidding against private contractors could be determined.

Byron Hart will be asked to shovel on an hourly basis, if needed, until the bid process is settled. Another round of bids may be required.

The board also took up the issue of clutter along Longley Loop, a situation that has been going on for years and that is of concern for town plows. A complaint filed by the town against the property owner in 2010 will be reopened with new photographs. The state Environmental Compliance Division will either take over enforcement of this case or offer the town advice.

The Select Board’s schedule for the next month was determined. It will not meet on Dec. 26, but will hold budget meetings beginning at 7 p.m. on Jan. 3, 4, 8, 9, 10  and, if needed, on Jan. 11.

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