Selectmen this week got their first look at a 23-article town warrant that includes a citizen petition to redress a tax error that resulted in a local taxpayer being improperly billed for 15 years on property she did not own.
“I’ll be honest with you, this is the first time I’ve ever seen this happen in 37 years,” Town Manager William Keegan said of the billing error involving a small parcel off Twilight Drive. “It’s extremely rare that you’d see something like this happen.”
While discussing the matter during a virtual meeting on Tuesday night, neither Keegan nor selectmen identified the aggrieved party. But Town Clerk Robert Cutler said the petition had been submitted on behalf of Deborah Cunniff, who is seeking to recover $5,025 in property tax payments dating to 2006.
Selectmen Chris Mitchell and Leah Gibson both urged Keegan to rectify the matter as soon as possible, perhaps even prior to the May town meeting.
“If this person has been paying taxes on a piece of property [she] never owned then shame on us as a town,” Mitchell said.
“We don’t want to see anyone having to jump through hoops,” Selectwoman Leah Gibson added.
Keegan replied that it may be possible to resolve the matter administratively, in part by utilizing the abatement process. But he said the issue of past charges would still need to be addressed by other means.
“The situation is something we want to fix and then move on from it,” Keegan said.
The tax issue was disclosed as Keegan briefed selectmen on preliminary plans for the May 10 annual town meeting. At this time, he said, the annual session is expected to be held in the high school auditorium, although officials remain open to alternate locations — or even an outdoor meeting — should COVID-19 restrictions on social gatherings persist.
Voters at the May 10 session will be asked to approve a town budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1 currently estimated at $81.6 million, up roughly $2.37 million from current year’s spending.
Keegan told board members that town officials may defer consideration of some capital spending items until a town meeting sometime next fall.
Although selectmen have yet to take a formal vote on the proposed operational budget, any substantive changes would be unlikely.
In addition to the annual spending requests, voters will be asked to approve two separate land transfers that would be placed under conservation restrictions to create a butterfly habitat off Oak Street. The first involves a 29-acre parcel consisting of land formerly occupied by Camp Lincoln Hill. The second involves a contiguous 4-acre parcel currently controlled by the town water department.
“Believe it or not it’s a rare habitat,” Keegan told selectmen. “They’ve actually researched this to the point where it is one of the most rare habitats anywhere in the state.”
The proposed warrant also includes five articles to fund collective bargaining agreements with employee unions. Negotiations with the various bargaining units may or may not be completed in time for the May session, Keegan said.
Other articles dealing with zoning would address boundaries of the Baker Street historic district to ensure the district zoning map coincides with bylaw text, and a separate housekeeping matter to correct a table of uses relative to assisted living facilities.
According to Cutler, a second citizen’s petition to be included on the May 10 warrant seeks to create a capital improvement committee bylaw similar to a proposal that was rejected by voters several years ago.
Lastly, selectmen voted Tuesday night to schedule a special town meeting within the May 10 annual to address items still pending in the current fiscal year. Under normal circumstances, such matters would be addressed at a fall town meeting, but pandemic-related concerns prompted officials to forego an autumn session in 2020.
As a procedural matter, voters are typically asked to temporarily adjourn the annual town meeting in order to conduct any business included in the special session, then resume the annual meeting.