Saugus meeting approves liens on unpaid fines

SAUGUS – Town Meeting members voted Monday to impose a system of personal and property liens against scofflaws who fail to pay outstanding fines and fees.After much debate, Article 25 passed 23-15 in its amended form, which established $300 as the minimum in unpaid obligations to the town before action is taken at the Southern Essex County Registry of Deeds.Town Meeting member Peter Manoogian proposed the amen-dment, explaining it would hardly be worth the town’s while to file a lien with its associated registry recording fees if the amount owed was actually less. It was decided the outstanding fines, permits, fees, violations and rental charges must cumulatively amount to $300 before the town treasurer sends the person’s name to the registry.Seeking clarification during the discussion, Town Meeting member George Moriello asked hypothetically what would happen if a Middleton resident was ticketed at the Square One Mall in Saugus for parking in a space reserved for handicapped drivers and did not pay the fine.Town Counsel John Vasapolli said the lien would be placed on the violator’s name at the registry and, should that person want to sell property owned in Middleton, they could not do so without first paying what was owed to Saugus.Town Meeting member Maureen Dever asked, “If I fail to license my dog, is there going to be a lien placed on my property?”Vasapolli said the article was drafted by copying verbatim from Massachusetts General Laws, adding it merely gives the town another tool with which to collect outstanding fines. “It gives us teeth to collect fees and charges,” he said.Town Meeting member Stephen Sweezey said the town should embrace the article because those who fail to pay fines, building permit fees, private details and other debts are scofflaws. He used the example of a resident does not register his dog, yet blatantly walks it on town streets. When the dog finally bites a child, the owner simply laughs at the fine and taunts the town to chase him for the money. “There are a lot of those people out there,” Sweezey said.Manoogian also expressed concerned the outstanding fines which become liens could be offered to professional bill collectors who work on commission.Town Manager Andrew Bisignani said the task of recording liens at Town Hall would not require additional staffing.The article in its final version passed unanimously, 38-0.Town Meeting on Monday also voted to form a committee to explore whether the Saugus Fire Department should run its own basic life-support ambulance staffed by emergency medical technicians (EMTs). The town currently hires the Cataldo Ambulance Co. for both basic and advanced life support, the latter requiring paramedics rather than EMTs.Requested funds were also favorably voted for maintenance of Riverside Cemetery, new equipment for the town Highway Department, street paving, sewer system improvements, and a sewage pump station for the Elm Street area. The article to build a sewage pump station on Route 1 for $618,000 was formerly referred back to the Board of Selectmen on recommendation of the Finance Committee.Town Meeting resumes June 13 to tackle the remaining articles, including a proposed trash fee. A special election is set for June 7, when residents decide whether to accept a one-time special property tax assessment to pay for $1.2 million in snow-and-ice removal costs from last winter.If the measure fails, the School Department faces layoffs and police, fire and public safety dispatchers will lose overtime pay.Bisignani said the trash fee could be needed as a revenue source if the snow-and-ice vote is negative.

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