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October 6, 2012

Inspector placed on paid leave

(Continued)

Nunes said the city will have to write off $100,000 in taxes that should have been collected from 47 property owners in 2010, representing permits allowing $10.3 million worth of improvements and new development that was not reported.

He said the error was discovered in time to allow the city to collect the other $200,000 from 302 property owners last year, who made $23 million worth of improvements and development that were not reported.

Nunes also called for several reforms to the way the Building Department does business, including a few that already are underway. Among them, the department has begun work to replace its archaic paper record-keeping systems with computer software that will be integrated with other departments. The city also will hire outside auditors to review department practices and audit permits it issued before 2010, which Nunes said will expose “the full extent of Lawrence’s potential losses and determine if any additional remedies are needed. “

At least two city councilors said that’s not enough.

Daniel Rivera, who chairs the council’s budget committee, said Blanchette should resign or Mayor Lantigua should fire him.

“Someone was asleep at the switch for at least two years,” Councilor Marc Laplante said. “There seems to be a pattern since the mayor’s been in office. It reminds us that it’s important we hire good, qualified people rather than friends and family.”

Building Commissioner Peter Blanchette is a former building inspector and the brother of Patrick Blanchette, a former City Council president who lost a mayoral primary to Lantigua in 2009 and then endorsed Lantigua in the general election. Lantigua named him director of economic development after taking office in January 2010.

Lantigua and Hester could not be reached yesterday. Peter Blanchette and Nunes did not return phone calls.

City Council President Frank Moran has asked Peter Blanchette, Budget Director Mark Ianello and John Isensee, the public works director who oversees the Building Department, to attend the council’s next meeting on Oct. 16 to explain how $300,000 in property taxes fell through the cracks at a time when the city was laying off cops and firefighters.

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