Resident Looks To Bylaw To Help Save Family Property

By: Tim Wood

Topics: Town Meeting , Municipal Finance


CHATHAM – It's been a long struggle for Dale Eldredge.

A native who graduated from Chatham High School in 1993, Eldredge spent a dozen years working to acquire the title to a lot on Stony Hill Road owned by his family. Originally owned by his grandmother, the property's ownership was shared by a number of aunts and uncles; Eldredge had inherited his share when his father passed away. Over the years he was able to buy out the others on the deed; he even tracked down a plastic surgeon who had been given a stake in the land as payment for an operation his grandmother had received.

But the family had stopped paying taxes on the 9,315-square-foot lot sometime in the 1980s; Eldredge began paying the taxes again in 2014, but over the years thousands of dollars in back taxes and interest – at a state-mandated rate of 16 percent – had accrued. That's a significant amount of money, especially for someone whose job as a grip – a lighting and rigging technician for film and video – can include long stretches without work.

Eldredge worked with Finance Director Alix Heilala to try to find a way to pay off the back taxes so he could build a house on the property; the previous structure was demolished several years ago when it was deemed to be unsafe.

“In my mind I always wanted to make good on the debt,” Eldredge said in an interview last week. But the interest alone had climbed to some $100,000, almost equal to the value of the property. After hearing about a state law that had been adopted by some cities allowing the creation of tax title payment agreements, he approached Heilala and members of the board of selectmen about Chatham taking similar action.

“He was diligent,” Heilala said.

The result is Article 6 on next Monday's special town meeting warrant, which, if approved by voters, would create a new bylaw authorizing the town to enter into agreements with owners of property that owe back taxes whereby up to half of the interest can be waived and payment plans can be developed to cover the remaining balance. The tax principal must be paid in full, and 25 percent of the total amount owed – after the reduction – must be paid up front.

If adopted, the bylaw would cut the amount of money Eldredge has to pay back to about $65,000, which he said he believes he can make work.

The bylaw would not apply to every property current in tax title. It is only available to residents, not second homeowners; the value must be equal to or less than 150 percent of the mean assessed value of residential properties in town – that figure is currently $1.2 million – and requires a 15-year residential deed restriction. Payment agreements are limited to five years, and there are conditions on the transfer of a property.

“It's crafted in such a way to provide relief for Chatham residents; it's not for commercial or for second homes,” Heilala said. There are currently 56 properties in tax title, owing a total of $404,204. Under the bylaw, about $170,000 in interest on those properties would qualify for the waiver. Both the board of selectmen and finance committee voted to support the article.

Although much of his work is in Boston – he worked on “Ghostbusters” there and was able to work in town on “The Finest Hours” – Eldredge rents in town and is a resident. He sees the bylaw as a way to allow him to remain living in the town where he grew up. There's a lot of talk about keeping young people in town, he noted, and this is one way to help at least one young person do that, while providing a way for payment of the tax debt.

“I kind of feel it's at the point where it's a 'It takes a village' sort of thing,” he said. “If it doesn't work, I'm not sure I can make it work.”