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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


He said Budget Director Mark Ianello has agreed to hire outside auditors “to review the Building Department’s practices in previous years” and help implement the reforms. He said the auditors also should be asked to audit building permits issued in the years before 2010, which he said will expose “the full extent of Lawrence’s potential losses and determine if any additional remedies are needed. “

Nunes said he also is asking Mayor Lantigua to “take action” against employees responsible for the oversight, but did not name any.

Councilor Rivera said Blanchette should be the first to go.

“The mayor put someone in charge who isn’t qualified and is not doing the job,” Rivera said. “Peter Blanchette should step down or be fired for this.”

Rivera recalled Blanchette’s response to a recent request from the City Council for copies of building inspections and other records.

“He gave us a bunch of handwritten reports – that’s how they do things,” Rivera said about a system that let $300,000 in property taxes fall through the cracks. “Everything is handwritten in that office. There’s no computerized data there. We told Peter he had to fix that. He just got upset about it.”

Lantigua promoted Blanchette, a former inspector, to run the Building Department shortly after his election in 2009. His brother is Patrick Blanchette, a former City Council president who ran against Lantigua in a mayoral primary in 2009, then endorsed Lantigua after losing the primary. Lantigua named Patrick Blanchette economic development director.

Lantigua and Peter Blanchette did not return phone calls yesterday.

The discovery that Peter Blanchette was not informing tax assessors of tens of millions of dollars worth of new development his inspectors were approving was made by Breda Daou, the chairwoman of the city’s Board of Assessment. Daou reported the discovery to Nunes, Ianello and other top finance officials at a meeting attended by Lantigua on Sept. 19. At that point, she had discovered that 302 building permits authorizing $23 million worth of new construction in 2011 had not been reported.

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