Docket No.: 278


IN THE MATTER OF PAUL ROMEO


Date: February 5, 1985



DISPOSITION AGREEMENT



This Disposition Agreement (Agreement) is entered into
between the State Ethics Commission (Commission) and Paul Romeo
(Mr. Romeo) pursuant to Section 11 of the Commission's
Enforcement Procedures. This Agreement constitutes a consented
to final Commission order enforceable in superior court pursuant
to G.L. c. 268B, s. 4(d).

On September 25, 1984, the Commission initiated a preliminary
inquiry, pursuant to the conflict of interest law, G.L. c. 268A,
involving Mr. Romeo, treasurer and tax collector of the town of
Ashland. The Commission concluded its inquiry and on December
20, 1984 found reasonable cause to believe that Mr. Romeo violated
G.L. c. 268A. The parties now agree to the following findings of
fact and conclusions of law:

1. Mr. Romeo is the treasurer and tax collector for the town
of Ashland, and has held this elected office since 1978. This is
a part-time position, with an annual salary of $5,100 per year.
As such, he is a municipal employee within the meaning of G.L. c.
268A, s. 1(g).

2. As treasurer and tax collector, Mr. Romeo is responsible
for the collection of real estate taxes owed to the town of
Ashland.

3. Due to financial difficulties, Mr. Romeo failed to make
timely payments of real estate taxes he owed to the town of
Ashland for the years 1980 through 1983. The taxes due for these
years on Mr. Romeo's residence and commercial properties in the
town amounted to $23,852 for 1980, $27,392 for 1981, $18,353 for
1982 and $22,171 for 1983, for a total amount of $91,768 in
taxes, exclusive of interest. Mr. Romeo's unpaid taxes accounted
for approximately 29 percent of the total real estate taxes of
$315,433 owed to the town for the years 1980-1983.

4. Mr. Romeo sent out timely demand notices to all delinquent
taxpayers (including himself) for the years 1980-1983. To collect
these taxes he followed these demand notices with telephone calls
or other informal contacts with delinquent taxpayers and succeeded
in achieving a good collection rate of 95-98 percent for these
years.

5. Pursuant to G.L. c. 60, s. 37, unpaid property taxes are
a lien upon the real estate for a period of three years from
October 1st of the year of assessment. Beyond that period, the
town may collect from the taxpayer personally, but without the
security of any lien on the land. The generally preferable method
of tax collection is for the town to take title to the land.
Pursuant to G.L. c. 60, s. 53, tax titles may be filed (with
proper notice) whenever a tax is not paid within 14 days of demand.
Up until 1978, the town of Ashland had a practice of filing tax
titles when taxes were approximately three years overdue. Since
1978, the town has not made use of this procedure. As tax
collector, Mr. Romeo was responsible for initiating tax title
proceedings for the town.

6. Pursuant to G.L. c. 58, s. 57, delinquent taxpayers must
pay 14 percent interest on overdue taxes. However, once a tax
title has been recorded by the town,t he taxpayer may redeem the
land only by paying the full amount in the tax title account plus
16 percent interest G.L. c. 60, s. 62.

7. On January 13, 1984, the town's independent auditor
informed the Board of Selectmen by letter that Mr. Romeo was in
arrears on the payment of all real estate taxes for 1980-1983.
The letter also advised that tax title proceedings should be
initiated within 45 days of the tax bill.

8. On January 20, 1984, Mr. Romeo paid $114,182.77 to the
town, which covered interest owed of $31,736.54 for the years
1980-1983 and taxes for these

Page 219


years of $82,446.23. In November, 1984, Mr. Romeo paid the
balance due of $4955.92 in interest and $31,117.70 in taxes for
1983 and 1984, for a total of $36,073.62.

9. Mr. Romeo paid a total interest, calculated at 14
percent, of $36,580. If he had continued the prior practice
of recording tax titles on delinquent properties when taxes were
approximately three years overdue, he would have owed 16 percent
interest on at least the 1980 taxes, so would have paid an
additional $1,823.00 in interest.

10. Section 19(a) of G.L. c. 268A prohibits a municipal
employee from participating in a particular matter in which, to
his knowledge, he has a financial interest. By participating as
tax collector in the decisions as to when and how to collect his
own delinquent real estate taxes for the years 1980-1983, Mr.
Romeo violated s. 19(a).

Based on the foregoing facts, the Commission has determined
that the public interest would be served by the disposition of
this matter without further enforcement proceedings on the basis
of the following terms agreed to by Mr. Romeo:

1. that he pay the Commission the sum of fifteen hundred
dollars ($1,500.00) as a civil penalty for violating G.L. c.
268A, s. 19(a);

2. that he pay to the town of Ashland the sum of one thousand
eight hundred twenty-three dollars ($1823.00) as recoupment of the
two percent interest lost by the town in connection with the 1980
taxes because tax titles were not recorded; and

3. that he waive all rights to contest the findings of fact,
conclusions of law and conditions contained in this Agreement in
this or any related administrative or judicial proceeding in
which the Commission is a party.
_______________

[1] This lack of security could have significant adverse
consequences for the town, e.g., if the delinquent taxpayer filed
for bankruptcy protection, the town, as to its tax claim more
than 3 years old, would be just one of many unsecured creditors
whose claims of recovery would be questionable.


End Of Decision