PWSB will send tax sale lists to council; notices in different languages

PWSB will send tax sale lists to council; notices in different languages

PAWTUCKET – The Pawtucket Water Supply Board has agreed to send all tax sale notices in three languages beyond English and to send a list of twice-annual tax sale notices to the City Council for regular review.

Councilor Elena Vasquez had made the request to have the notices in multiple languages at the Aug. 19 council meeting, and Councilor John Barry III had asked for the council to be provided with a list of all properties put up for tax sale each May and November.

PWSB Chief Engineer James DeCelles, in a Sept. 2 letter to the council, agreed to both requests, including that notices will be sent out in Spanish, Portuguese and Cape Verdean Creole.

Vasquez said she met with DeCelles prior to the Aug. 19 meeting about improving the PWSB’s systems and said he addressed her concerns over the tax sale process. Barry said at the Aug. 19 meeting that providing the entire council with lists will allow members to approach homeowners they find on there to let them know the situation they’re in and steer them in the right direction.

DeCelles, in a letter to the council, explained that the current process first started in 2008 when the PWSB had seen its “period five balance,” or accounts that were more than 150 days past due, balloon to around $700,000. The PWSB joined with the city on tax sales at that time to help avoid unnecessary rate increases during 2008’s sharp downturn in the economy, he said.

Several council members contacted DeCelles about the tax sale process after a story by GoLocalProv about a woman, Sylvia Rivera, losing her Carnation Street home over an unpaid $1,500 water bill after notices were not delivered by the U.S. Post Office. Rivera said she hadn’t known until this summer that her home had been auctioned off in December 2018.

In an Aug. 13 letter to the council, DeCelles said the PWSB was eventually able to reduce its period five balance to below $300,000, but that balance is now back up over $500,000. May’s tax sale was canceled, and the Public Utilities Commission instituted a moratorium on utility shutoffs, with interest and fees waived until this month. That moratorium has since been lifted.

“In the coming months, the board will be discussing and revising collection policies with an eye toward the post-pandemic economy and unemployment,” said DeCelles.

He said in addition to mail reminders, the homeowner on Carnation Street had also signed up for three email reminders each month. It’s clearly not the PWSB’s intent to force anyone out of their home, he said, and the board has a history of being accommodating.