Councilman in S’mass Village avoids large tax
Town Councilman Dick Virtue will pay approximately $270 in fines for work that was completed on his Divide home without a permit.The council voted 3-1, with Doug “Merc” Mercatoris dissenting, at the June 28 meeting to not invoke the town’s excise tax assessment on excess floor area at Virtue’s home.Had his colleagues decided otherwise, Virtue could have been required to pay more than $27,000, because the expansion put the home over the permitted 5,500 square feet, the maximum size allowed for this lot. In explaining his dissent, Mercatoris pointed out that errant homeowners and developers have in the past been forced to either pay the tax or reduce the size of their house.But the majority on the council agreed there was too much gray area surrounding the initial measurement of the home’s actual square footage and the subsequent expansion of a closet to invoke the large fine.According to planning director Chris Conrad, the home exceeded the 5,500-square-foot limit by 91 square feet at the time the certificate of occupancy was issued. A later addition to a closet added another 144 square feet, but an “administrative modification” subtracted 50 square feet of assessable area and reduced the area subject to the excise tax to 94 square feet. The tax on that area is $27,890.16.The majority of council didn’t agree with Conrad and the planning department’s analysis, pinning the blame instead on administrative errors that were supposedly made at the time.”The fact is, the town did get those plans prior to issuing the certificate of occupancy. Once the town gets those plans, the town is bound by those plans,” said Councilman Arnie Mordkin. “If the town makes a mistake, it’s the town’s responsibility,” he added. Mayor T. Michael Manchester agreed that “the town is bound, once they accept [the plans].”Virtue was asked to pay the penalty for not getting the building permit required to expand a closet. All told, according to chief building official Mark Kittle, Virtue was assessed $269.95 ($91 for the permit, $91 for a penalty, $59.15 for a plan-check fee and $28.80 for an occupancy assessment fee).Mercatoris said he feared the council was opening “Pandora’s box” by allowing Virtue’s home to be “grandfathered in.””In the past we have made people pay excise tax,” Mercatoris said. “In general, I would rather see excise money be paid or the space removed.”Proceeds from the excise tax help support employee housing, of which Mercatoris is an outspoken supporter.The issue came to the forefront recently because Virtue’s home was under contract for sale. The excess square footage will affect the new owner, who will be severely restricted on the amount he can expand.
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