By Kimberly Morin
On March 14th, the Town of Raymond will be holding its annual vote on warrant articles and open elected positions. There have been some extremely interesting town meetings and deliberative sessions with the school board, the selectmen and a candidates’ night. During some of these meetings it was brought up that there are over $2 million in unpaid property taxes.
Raymond is a small town with a little over 10,000 people. They collected over $5 million in property taxes alone last year. It seems outrageous that such a small town as such a huge backlog of unpaid property taxes. It adds up to almost the total they are collection each year from those residents who actually pay. During the candidate night, selectman Jack Barnes claimed that the town has to have compassion when it comes to collecting of back taxes. He’s right. Towns do indeed have discretion if people have temporary circumstances that are causing a hardship. Is it really possible that there are $2 million worth of hardships?
When former selectman and candidate for the board William Hoitt addressed the unpaid tax issue, he stated that there are animal hides buried all over the place in Raymond and that’s one reason they don’t follow through on collecting taxes. Hoitt maintains the he actually knows where some of this contaminated property is and if a property owner doesn’t pay taxes and the town was to take over their home for that reason, the town would then have to pay to clean up the contamination. No one at the meeting seemed even a little taken aback by this horrifying statement.
There is indeed contaminated property in Raymond due to the former Rex Tannery that was in operation up until the 1970s. The parcels that have been identified as contaminated were awarded grants from the Environmental Protection Agency to clean them up and maintain an ongoing process to be sure the properties are fully decontaminated. These aren’t residential properties though, they were businesses.
What’s even worse is digging into the unpaid taxes owed. It seems that some selectmen don’t believe in paying property taxes on time either, including some candidates for the board. All information about unpaid taxes and tax liens is available to the public through the New Hampshire Registry of Deeds. It’s quite interesting to find there are a handful of people running the town and some who are employees of the town who can’t seem to pay their taxes on time like is expected of the residents they are supposed to represent.
The following information was derived from a report provided by the Town of Raymond as well as the history from the New Hampshire Registry of Deeds for Rockingham County. Below are selectmen, candidates for the board, a Raymond State Representative and town employees who have either unpaid property taxes from last year; a history of tax liens and not paying their property taxes and/or no payment of taxes at all for years:
Kathleen Hoelzel – 7 term state representative. She’s the Majority Whip in the New Hampshire House of Representatives and also the Raymond Town Moderator. Hoelzel and her husband own multiple properties in the town and seem to have a habit of not paying their property taxes on time. They have had several tax liens put onto their properties over the years. They are currently behind on paying 2016 property taxes as well:
This is from the registry of deeds. A tax lien was executed on May 5, 2016. The year of levy was for 2015 unpaid property taxes:
Gregory Bemis – Current selectman and Chair of the Raymond Board of Selectmen. He also sits on the Cable, Recreation Advisory and CIP Committees. He acts as an alternate on the Highway Safety and Planning Committees. Bemis also has a bad habit of not paying his property taxes on time, is currently in arrears and has had tax liens put onto his multiple properties over the years as well:
Bemis has a history of tax liens as well:
Alissa Welch – Currently sits on the Raymond Planning Board and Zoning Board (goes by the name of Del Tufo there), is running for the Planning Board. She and her husband (also a Raymond call Firefighter) haven’t paid their 2016 property taxes:
Bernie Peer – Is currently the Vice Chair of the Conservation Commission in Raymond and sits as an alternate on the Planning Board. He is currently running for the board of selectmen. Currently owes back taxes for 2016 but appears to be making payments:
William Hoitt – Former selectmen who is now seeking re-election on the board of selectmen. He also has a history of not paying his taxes and is currently in arrears with a tax lien. He is the man in the video who made the horrifying claim about the “dump trucks of hides.” He was also a town employee for years and is a call firefighter with the Raymond Fire Department:
Hoitt also has a history of liens:
Joe Povilaitis – Is currently the Vice Chair of the Raymond zoning board. Has unpaid property taxes for 2016:
Micol Greenwood – Currently a Raymond town employee who is also a Deputy Fire Chief. He owes thousands in back property taxes on his home. There has been a tax lien on his home for years but nothing has come out of it as a result. Is it because his property is contaminated with “hides” or because he’s a town employee and a Deputy Chief call firefighter:
He has a long history as well. It appears he pays simply one year’s worth of taxes and gets a redemption yet still owes back taxes:
Taxes are paid twice a year and are due on July 1 and December 1. A tax lien is issued to the property owner if they don’t pay their taxes owed 6 months after they were originally due. From the 2016 Annual Report:
Impending Tax Lien Notices, RSA 80:60, were mailed on March 30, 2016. If the taxes for the 2015 tax year were not paid in full by May 5, 2016, 4:00 p.m., a 2016 Property Tax Lien was placed on the property. There were no Tax Collector Deeds issued to the Town of Raymond in 2016.
What’s interesting about the annual reports is they don’t seem to show a balance forward from previous years’ uncollected taxes until recently. If you’re looking at the report it appears as though there was no prior balance and suddenly there was over $1 million in uncollected property taxes. It’s obvious from the report that was run by the town that some people haven’t paid taxes since 2009 and probably further back than that.
The Chair of the Board of Selectmen, Gregory Bemis, claims the board is “compassionate” about people who don’t pay their property taxes and from his statement in the annual report claims to be acutely aware of the Board’s financial responsibility. From the 2016 annual report:
The Board continues to strive to work with residents who are less fortunate and to be compassionate to their individual condition and be respectful of their circumstances. As a Board, we are acutely aware of our financial responsibility to the residents and to the Town. We constantly evaluate all of our decisions on the ability of the residents to afford the excellent services the town provides with the ever-increasing cost of those services. We as a Board have taken very seriously the Capital Improvement Program which been a tremendous help in guiding our decisions for operating budget and the corresponding Warrant Articles.
Ironic that Bemis habitually doesn’t pay his property taxes on time while the majority of Raymond taxpayers do. By the way, the selectmen also get a stipend of $1,500 per year courtesy of the taxpayers. These are the same people who feign concern about taxpayers yet want to strap the taxpayers with a new police department for almost $7 million even though the current police station was built in the early nineties and the population isn’t growing. These are the same people who want the taxpayers to spend over $9.4 million on elementary school renovations even though there are other possible solutions using the middle school to avoid overcrowding. Again, for a population that is not growing.
If there truly are that many residents in Raymond who cannot afford to pay almost $2 million in property taxes, how is it that they will suddenly be able to afford yet another tax increase to pay for these items? Why should the rest of the taxpayers in Raymond have to keep all of these others, including town officials who choose to pay late, afloat by paying their taxes on time? How does the board know that the people who pay their taxes on time aren’t struggling as well?
There may indeed be cases where some people had circumstances beyond their control but that cannot be said for those who seem to use the lax tax collections almost as a source of reliable emergency loans until they are forced to pay. Is it possible that a large number of people simply pay their taxes late each year? The annual report claims that 98% of taxpayers paid their taxes on time. Since the total property taxes paid were over $5 million, the math doesn’t quite work out that over $2 million represents a mere 2% of the taxpaying population.
Voters have choices to make in the upcoming weeks but it appears that selectman have some explaining to do. Between unpaid taxes and contaminated hides, something rotten seems to be going on in Raymond. The people of Raymond elect representatives to run their town effectively and efficiently. They rely on these people to do their due diligence when it comes to spending and revenues. If the town knows there were “dump trucks of hides” buried all over the place, why did they allow homes to be built on this land? Voters should do themselves a favor and demand answers before committing to raising taxes on themselves again.
Correction: We had Alissa Welch running for selectwoman, Kevin Woods let us know she’s running for Planning Board.
NOTE: The information and Detailed Balance Report regarding tax balances is produced by the Raymond Town Clerk/Tax Collector and everyone has access to this information as it is public. The history of tax liens is also public information and can be found at the NH Registry of Deeds for Rockingham County. Again, everyone has access to this information.