BURRILLVILLE – In 2019, the fire districts of Harrisville, Nasonville and Oakland-Mapleville brought in revenue through a process that allows tax collectors to auction off liens on delinquent debtors.
All three districts also held a tax sale in 2018, collecting thousands in back taxes from residents who hoped to keep their names off the list of those owing money to the village district, plus additional revenue from investors purchasing liens on the homes of debtors who were unresponsive.
But in the Pascoag Fire District, some property owners have had bills accumulating since 2015, without facing similar penalties.
That will change this April, when the district holds its first tax sale since 2016.
“It’s been a little while,”said Chris Toti, the chairman of the district’s governing board of commissioners since May of 2019.
The district has hired Michelle Baker to serve as tax attorney and in November, new district treasurer Dennis Anderson sent a courtesy letter to every resident with a past due bill from 2017 or earlier.
“It’s been quiet for so long, they had no way of knowing they were on the list,” said Anderson. “If I were on the receiving end of this, I would want to know this is coming.”
“That did get some people to come in and settle up,” he said of the letter.
The sales – a means of collecting money due to the district – are typically held by municipalities at least once every two years. Delinquents are notified of the process in legal letters, including fees which escalate until a month before the sale, when a list of names is published.
In the months prior to the sale, they typically have a chance to work out a payment plan with local officials.
“We understand that people have financial difficulties, and we are certainly willing to work with folks,” said Toti, noting that the process is nonetheless needed. “It’s our responsibility to make sure those monies are collected so it’s fair for everybody.”
Compared to other districts in town, it seems the Pascoag residents have had some leeway. Tax sales were held in the town’s three other fire districts, and one was held by the sewer commission, for bills sent out as recently as 2018 last year.
According to the town property database, liens were placed on some 30 homes in Burrillville in 2019 due to past due payments.
But officials note that the goal is to get residents to come in and address the debt before it gets to that point.
“It’s a necessary thing to make sure the district gets the money it has coming,” noted Anderson, who also serves on the Town Council in Burrillville.
The April sale will address past due Pascoag fire taxes from 2015, 2016 and 2017. Residents on the list first received a legal notice with a fees of $75 to cover the tax attorney’s deed search for their property. Last week, the district sent out letters that also included additional attorney fees of $110 for each delinquent.
If the bills are still unpaid 40 days before the sale, another $100 will be added on to the back taxes and penalties.
“The numbers just keep getting bigger and bigger the longer that you go,” said Anderson. “It’s in your best interest to find a way to resolve it sooner rather than later.”
The names of residents in Pascoag whose homes are headed to the lien sale will be published on March 6.
Anderson noted that the fire district sends tax bills annually to some 2,500 homes.
“Thank goodness the majority of them pay their taxes and are not on this list,” he said.
Former Pascoag tax collector Laurie McCutcheon led the effort to hold the district’s last tax sale in 2016. But the district has seen organizational troubles in recent years and McCutcheon was suspended from the position in January of 2018.
Currently, no one holds the title of tax collector in Pascoag, but recently, the board has named a treasurer, an administrative aid and a business manager.
“We’ve held that position open,” said Toti, noting that recent efforts to reorganize how the district functions will include a review of bylaws, which could result in a change to the tax collector’s role. “We’ve taken a different approach. There was one person in the office that wore a few different hats. We’ve taken those duties and disbursed them.”
Anderson first came on as a volunteer, but Toti said he’s been extremely helpful to the process.
“There’s been a lot of criticism in Pascoag over the past few years,” Anderson said. “I wanted to be part of the solution.”
At a meeting earlier this week, the commission approved a $500 stipend for Anderson for the service.
Toti said he aims to see the district hold the tax sales at least once every two years going forward.