BANGOR, Maine — A little over 30 minutes after voting to recommend taking possession of property owned by a couple seriously delinquent on their loans and property taxes, the City Council’s finance committee reversed itself.
After voting 3-2 to prepare a council order to take possession of the house and property at 110 Pearl St., the committee voted 3-2 against taking possession after a reconsideration motion was made by Charlie Longo and seconded by fellow Councilor Geoffrey Gratwick.
Monday afternoon’s committee meeting involved five agenda items, but the first one — an update and discussion on the workout agreement between the city and Peter and Jennifer Brown, who are five years behind on their property taxes — took up most of the 100-minute session.
City tax collector and deputy treasurer David Little updated the five-member committee on the agreement — approved in October 2010 — which initially was for 12 months and called for monthly payments of $800 with $200 applied to taxes and $600 going to mortgage loans and property insurance.
Due to what Little called “some payment issues,” the agreement later was extended until October 2012.
Since that extension, Little said, the Browns have made one payment and are now $4,150 in arrears. Because of the missed payments, there was not enough money in the escrow account to pay the annual property insurance bill.
The outstanding balance is $133,074 and the assessed value of the home and lot is $125,000.
The Browns, who filed an abatement application earlier Monday, attended the meeting. They said that Peter Brown suffered a severe concussion from a fall on his driveway and was unable to work for several months. Jennifer Brown has been working a part-time schedule with the Bangor school system but said she is only able to cover weekly bills and is unable to contribute to the payment schedule with the city.
Jennifer Brown said she received a $400 property tax refund over a month ago but had to use it to buy heating fuel after initially saying she just hadn’t had a chance to bring the money to the tax office.
Councilor Joe Baldacci proposed a compromise to accept a $400 Maine Property Tax Circuit Breaker refund the Browns received about a month ago and all of their anticipated $4,500 tax refund money and then reconvening in May to discuss the next step. The motion failed 3-2.
While stressing that they don’t like to have to be part of such discussions, Councilor Cary Weston and James Gallant voiced their concerns about the Browns’ ability to honor the agreement.
“This conversation is almost identical to ones we’ve had the past two years and I don’t see how circumstances will change,” Weston said. “While I sympathize with tough circumstances and tough times, as homeowners we make a commitment we have to honor.”
“I don’t want to continue to set a bad precedent giving people an idea that they don’t have to pay their taxes because they’ll be allowed to remain in their homes,” said Gallant.
The initial vote — taken after a long session involving committee chairman Nelson Durgin and fellow Councilors Weston, Baldacci, Gallant, Gratwick and Longo — was 3-2 with Durgin, Weston and Gallant voting in favor and Baldacci and Gratwick voting against. Neither Weston nor Longo are finance committee members. Weston was designated as a voting substitute for committee member Pat Blanchette, who was unable to attend. Longo was present as a nonvoting member.
Weston then left the meeting and Longo filled his spot.
After committee members attended to the other four agenda items, Longo asked if he could bring the Browns’ matter up for reconsideration.
City Solicitor Norm Heitmann said such a move was unusual, but so was a committee changing its membership over the course of a meeting, although he could recall times that had happened in the past. Heitmann said he could not recall a reconsideration motion made and voted on under such circumstances before in his tenure, but that it was allowed.
Gratwick seconded Longo’s motion, and Gallant objected, saying the move left a bad taste in his mouth. He also pointed out that the matter still would have to come to the City Council for a vote.
The revote came out 3-2 against taking possession of the house with Longo, Gratwick and Baldacci voting in the majority.
Baldacci then offered his earlier compromise motion again, Longo seconded, and this time it was approved 3-2 with Longo, Gratwick and Baldacci voting in the majority.
The matter will come before the full City Council for a vote on Monday, April 9.
When reached two hours after the meeting for reaction to the revote, Weston said, “no comment.”