If anyone opposed the principle of giving Geoffrey Craig (Spa) Tharpe $4,954.90 from the Aquinnah town coffers, they didn’t show up at town meeting on Tuesday night.
Instead, discussion focused on whether the town could find a creative but legal way to reimburse the popular Aquinnah resident for overpayment of his property taxes in 2005 and 2006.
Derrill Bazzy, chairman of the Community Preservation Committee, seemed to capture the sentiment of the crowd: “Clearly the town should do right by Spa. I’m kind of embarrassed that he had to come here.”
There appeared to be no dispute that the tax assessors’ office overcharged Mr. Tharpe over several years. His property was assessed at $675,000, even though as a beneficiary of the town’s affordable housing program, his deed specifies he can’t resell the property for more than $230,000, he said.
“I was singled out. Nobody had been taxed at the rate,” said Tharpe, who now is assessed at the lower rate, but petitioned to get on the town meeting warrant on the past-payment issue. “Don’t get me wrong, I wake up every day and . . . I appreciate what I got. I love it,” he said.
Mr. Tharpe acknowledged he filed late for an abatement in 2005 and didn’t file at all in 2006, but said he believed the issue was being resolved by town officials. “It’s not my fault that it didn’t get taken care of,” he said. “Who can afford to give the town $5,000? I certainly can’t.”
Regardless of who is at fault, Massachusetts law is very specific about what procedures need to be followed to get an abatement, said town counsel Ron Rappaport. He said the question had been researched and a legal opinion issued in January that concluded that the town had no legal authority to grant a refund in this case. “The town cannot legally give money to an individual,” Mr. Rappaport said.
Several voters suggested paying Mr. Tharpe to do work for the town as a way around the legal issue, but were told that was not possible.
“We have thought of absolutely everything, and everything we have come up with has not worked,” said Camille Rose, chairman of the selectmen.
In the end, the town meeting voted unanimously to have the selectmen petition the Massachusetts legislature under the Home Rule process to allow the town to refund Mr. Tharpe excess tax payments plus accrued interest.