In Lawrence, we see the consequences of hiring political allies to do important jobs rather than seeking out the qualified and competent.
The Building Department failed to report to city assessors more than $33 million in new development it had approved over the last two years. As a result, Lawrence has failed to collect $300,000 in property taxes owed to the city.
That’s $300,000 that Lawrence could have used to keep firefighters and police on the job. Instead, to balance its budgets, the administration of Mayor William Lantigua laid off dozens of police and firefighters in 2010, jeopardizing public safety in the city until the receipt of grant money allowed many of those positions to be refilled.
Reporter Keith Eddings found that the one bright spot in this mess is that the mistake was caught in time to fix the 2011 assessment roll, adding the 302 permits that were not reported that year. The city will be able to issue bills for the $200,000 in taxes those permits represent. But $100,000 in taxes from 47 projects that should have been reported in 2010 is lost.
The Building Department is led by Peter Blanchette, a former building inspector whom Lantigua appointed to his post shortly after the mayor was elected in 2009. Blanchette is the brother of Lantigua ally Patrick Blanchette, who serves as Lawrence’s economic development director and had been the mayor’s acting chief-of-staff.
The lapse was uncovered by Breda Daou, the chairwoman of the city’s Board of Assessment. Daou reported the discovery to Robert Nunes, the city’s state-appointed fiscal overseer, Budget Director Mark Ianello, Mayor Lantigua and other city officials at a meeting 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.
Nunes ordered Peter Blanchette to audit the permits issued in 2010, which found another 47 permits authorizing $10.3 million worth of new development also had not been reported to assessors.