By Erin Place

PARIS—Letters went out this week to property owners in South Paris who owe back taxes which, in addition to the recently enforced sign ordinance, is another step in the administration’s bid to enforce its policies.

At the selectmen’s meeting on Thursday, Aug. 25, Paris Town Manager Amy Bernard told the board there are eight properties that are in the red regarding taxes to the town and there’s been an ongoing discussion over the last six months to develop a policy on how to recoup the money. For the eight properties, the town is owed $35,212.08 in back taxes, including this year’s taxes. The town can only go back three years to collect the owed funds.

“I saw when I came here the town has historically done nothing,” she said, adding this issue dates back 10 years.

According to Bernard, it was originally thought there were 15 delinquent properties, but that number was narrowed down after a software error was discovered and it was found that some had been paid off. The eight properties include trailers, land and homes and land. The letters were sent out via certified by mail, asking owners to make arrangements with the town for a payment plan if they can’t pay all that is owed within the 14-day deadline. Bernard said nine times out of 10, mortgage companies will pay back taxes, but most these properties don’t have a mortgage, and there are only two properties in which people reside.

“The way that tax lien law goes, if [the town] lean[s] the property and then forecloses on it, the town has first right to the property. So even if there was a mortgage on it, the town would own it over the mortgage company, and that would be a dirty deed, per say,” she said. “I think we need to encourage taxpayers to make an effort to pay on them and this would be the first step in that process. … It’s in the best interest of everybody that we encourage everyone to pay their taxes off before it gets to foreclosure.”

“Well I guess as a taxpayer it’s like I know I’m going to get a nice note and lots of fees and everything included if I don’t pay my taxes,  so I do believe these folks should be encouraged to pay,” Selectman Janet Jamison said, adding she doesn’t understand why the problem was ignored for 10 years.

Bernard told her some towns choose to do what South Paris has done for the past decade, which is make no effort to collect back property taxes and do nothing with tax-acquired property.

Paris Selectmen Vice Chair Robert Wessels commended Bernard for sending letters that don’t simply demand money from the property owners, but encourages them to set up a payment plan if they can’t pay within 14 days.

“To me, I’m on board with that,” he said.

Bernard reaffirmed the town’s goal in sending out the letters.

“We have no desire as a community to own your property,” she said. “We want you to pay your taxes. We’re in the business of providing a service and you pay for that service through your taxes.”

At the Aug. 25 meeting, she told selectmen she planned on waiting until after Labor Day to send out the letters since she was on vacation  for the rest of last week.

“I know my gut reaction is once I send these letters to people, they’re going to call one of you and complain that I’m trying to do my job,” Bernard said. “I want to be here when the calls come in.”

At the same meeting, selectmen voted to enforce the town’s sign ordinance by fining business owners $25 per sign for those who erect them without going through the proper process, which includes filling out an application and paying a $10 fee, along with receiving Planning Board approval. The fine or fines can be recouped if approval from the Planning Board is received within 30 days of the issuance of the fine.

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