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October 5, 2012

City fails to tax $33M in new building

$300K in revenue at stake; Councilor Rivera calls for mayor to fire building commissioner

LAWRENCE — More than $33 million in new development over the last two years was never placed on the city’s property tax rolls because building officials failed to report they had approved it, costing this nearly broke city $300,000 in property tax revenues, the city’s fiscal overseer said yesterday.

About $100,000 in taxes that should have been collected from 47 projects the Building Department approved but never reported to the Assessor’s Office in 2010 — a year when the city laid of dozens of cops and firefighters — will be written off, Robert Nunes, the state-appointed fiscal overseer, said in a letter disclosing the foul-up to the City Council. But the mistake was caught in time to fix the 2011 assessment roll by adding the 302 permits that were not reported that year, allowing the city to bill for $200,000 in taxes that otherwise would have gone uncollected.

Councilor Daniel Rivera, who chairs the council’s budget committee, responded by calling on Mayor William Lantigua to fire Building Commissioner Peter Blanchette.

Using some of his strongest language since taking command of city finances at the height of a fiscal crisis in 2010, Nunes said the failure to inform assessors of 349 new building projects over the two years was due to “the negligent practices and lax oversight that has apparently festered for years in the Building Department.” He said the department’s practices have been a drag on the city’s recovery and called for fundamental reforms in way it does business.

“Not only is this a flagrant affront to the taxpayers of Lawrence who can ill afford lost property values, it endangers the many advances we have made to strengthen Lawrence’s finances, (including) three balanced city budgets and improved bond ratings,” Nunes said.

Nunes said work already has begun to replace the Building Department’s archaic paper record-keeping systems with software that will be integrated with systems used by other departments at City Hall, including the Tax Assessor.

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