Back to the drawing board

BEACON FALLS — Two proposed ordinances regarding officials and businesses that owe back taxes are heading back to the drawing board after the town’s legal counsel weighed in on the proposals.

In June, Selectman Michael Krenesky proposed two ordinances. One would prohibit elected or appointed officials on a board, committee, or commission, who receives a stipend or salary from the town, from receiving that payment if they owe outstanding taxes, fees or fines. The other proposal would add language to an existing ordinance that states taxpayers who owe outstanding taxes will not be considered as a bidder or awarded a contract for any town-issued or town-authorized projects as either a primary contractor or subcontractor.

Krenesky subsequently withdrew the proposal regarding elected or appointed officials with the intent to modify it to add a clause that states officials who are on a recognized and authorized payment plan with the town would be exempt from the ordinance.

According to Town Attorney Fred Stanek, there are legal issues with both proposals.

“It is my opinion that the town cannot refuse to pay compensation to an elected or appointed official who is performing his or her duties because he or she owes back taxes. That individual, whether elected or appointed, is performing services or some type of work and is entitled to be paid. My opinion is we would run afoul of state labor laws if we decided, based upon back taxes being owed, not to pay him or her,” Stanek told the Board of Selectmen Monday night.

Krenesky pointed out that state statutes allow the Board of Selectmen to set the salary for elected officials.

“I guess my question is, following under that, whether this would then apply,” Krenesky said. “It’s purely up to the Board of Selectmen to decide whether any elected official receives any compensation at all.”

Stanek said once salaries are set they have to be paid to those individuals.

“It is my opinion that, if the person then performs his or her duties, he or she is entitled to that compensation even if he or she owes back taxes,” Stanek said.

There are several elected or appointed officials that receive a salary from the town. However, the way the proposal was written — stipulating officials on a board, committee, or commission — the ordinance would only affect six people: the three members of the Board of Assessment Appeals and the three members of the Board of Selectmen.

Of the six members on the two boards currently, only Selectman Peter Betkoski owes back taxes. Betkoski owed $11,614.74 as of June 16. The taxes are related to his paving company, Betkoski Brothers. Betkoski, who is on a payment plan to pay off the debt, doesn’t owe any personal property taxes.

Stanek also had issues with the proposed ordinance concerning awarding bids.

The ordinance is broken into two subsections, A and B.

Under subsection A, any business, contractor, or sub-contractor that owes back taxes shall not be issued a building, septic instillation, or water hook-up permit.

Subsection B, which is the new language Krenesky sought to add, states that any business, contractor, or sub-contractor that owes back taxes shall not be considered a bidder or awarded a contract for any town issued or authorized project.

Stanek contended that subsection B is not allowed by state statute.

Stanek said a municipality may set up a process for the disqualification of bidders. However, he said, the reasons for disqualification are limited and include being found guilty of a criminal offence while obtaining or working under a contract, being found guilty of bribery, forgery, or receiving stolen goods, or a history of failure to perform work under the contract.

“There is no mention in that statute, or in any other statute, that would allow us to pass subsection B of the proposed ordinance,” Stanek said. “So it is my opinion … that we should not proceed with subsection B.”

Stanek said subsection A was permitted under the state statutes.

First Selectman Christopher Bielik said the board is in a place to rework the proposal after receiving Stanek’s opinion.

“It seems we can take the ordinance back to square one and, with that information, and attempt to reword it so that it doesn’t violate the provisions of the state statutes. It could move forward potentially if we want to stick with subsection A only,” Bielik said.

Krenesky withdrew the ordinances.

“Where I am the one who submitted this, I would like to pull the ordinance back for further review by myself before making a decision to move it forward back into the process,” Krenesky said.

After the meeting, Krenesky said planned to seek out a second opinion regarding the legality of the proposed ordinance on elected and appointed officials. He also plans to remove subsection B from the ordinance dealing with contractors to be able to resubmit it.

If Krenesky resubmits either of the ordinances, the Board of Selectmen would have to send them out for a legal opinion again. If they move forward, they would have to go to a public hearing and be voted on at a town meeting.