Harrison clearing the books of tax scofflaws

By Gail Geraghty

Staff Writer

HARRISON — No one should ever accuse the town of Harrison of jumping the gun on selling off foreclosed property, Town Manager George “Bud” Finch told the Board of Selectmen last week.

While working with staff to wade through a list of longstanding tax scofflaws, he came across a prime vacant lot in an upscale subdivision whose owner had not paid his taxes for five years. Registered letters were repeatedly sent but never acknowledged by Edward J. Savina, who owes $1,350 in back taxes on Lot 8 in Colonial Estates. At 2.5 acres, it is one of the larger lots in a 67-lot subdivision off the Carsley Road.

“We’ve had absolutely no contact with the gentleman, who lives in another state,” Finch told the board. He said the board ought to put the parcel out to bid with a minimum bid that is at least the amount of tax owed, plus a set amount on top of that. The land has an assessed value of $24,700.

“I’ve seen too many TV shows where they advertise for $99 they’ll tell you how to get municipal property for nothing — and I do think we owe it to the taxpayers to collect at least the amount of taxes owed, and some value on the property,” Finch said.

Selectman Richard St. John suggested a $5,000 minimum bid, but later amended his motion to $7,500 after Selectman Matthew Frank pointed out the town’s assessment of worth. Selectman Chairman Bill Winslow cautioned against setting the minimum bid too high, lest the town be left without any bidders.

Selectman Kathy Laplante said the town has made many efforts over the years to contact Savina, with no luck, and the minimum bid should reflect that effort.

Finch said he has successfully negotiated with other property owners who’ve owed taxes dating back several years, and has been able to bring them to the board to have a quitclaim deed issued. The board didn’t need to act on a second foreclosed property on the agenda, at 21 Upton Road, because the owner paid off the debt after the agenda was printed. A quitclaim deed was issued on a third property.

“None of these are taken lightly by myself or the staff,” he said. “There’s no way you should be looking at five years” of a property in arrears.

Also last week, the board agreed to give Finch time to research what Selectman Lisa Villa said was the largest number of people she’s ever seen bidding on the town’s mowing and maintenance contracts.

“It tells a lot about the economy,” Villa said, that there were nine bidders, either individuals or businesses, for the chance to mow the town’s cemeteries and other town properties at the transfer station, the RADR Complex and town parks in the Village. Usually, there are only two or three bids; Arlin Bigelow of Harrison has done the parks and beaches for years, and Kyle Chute of Casco did the cemeteries and the RADR Complex last year.

The bids varied widely and in several cases weren’t consistent for purposes of comparison, so Finch said he wanted to make sure there weren’t any mistakes made in filling out the bid forms and to contact bidders, if necessary, to clarify the figures before making a recommendation to the board. “None of the contracts would start before April, anyway,” said Finch, who noted that “any and all bids can be accepted” under the law at the board’s discretion.

“It’s nice to see the interest,” said Frank. Finch will make his recommendations on the bid at the board’s Feb. 2 meeting. Those who bid were TRS Timber Maintenance, Inc., of Waterford; Premier Landscaping of Naples (Brandon Chase); Four Seasons Landscape Service of Harrison (Wayne Head); Finishing Touch Landscaping of Casco (Chute); Four Seasons Maintenance of Harrison (Mike Ward); Bigelow; CPS Maintenance of Bridgton (William Keniston); Lake Region Home and Property Services of Naples (Nick Roy); and Wendall Scribner of Harrison.

The board also appointed Colleen Densmore, Jamie Dayton, Bigelow and Ray Laplante to the Budget Committee. Finch passed out copies of a first draft fiscal year 2013 budget that the committee will begin reviewing at their first meeting. He said residents appeared pleased with formatting changes he introduced last year, which “provide a very open picture of where the money goes,” and the new budget continues with that format.

The committee’s main task, said Finch, will be to come up with “productivity improvements and cost avoidance” recommendations to help offset increases in county and education spending. He expects the final result will be a one- or two-cent increase in the mill rate, providing there are no unexpected increases in education costs.

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