How one woman nearly lost her home in Allenstown

  • Angelique Holm is seen at her home on Fullam Circle in Allenstown. Lola Duffort/ Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Tuesday, August 15, 2017

At least for now, Angelique Holm will get to keep her house, a three-bedroom mobile home on Fullam Circle whose backyard abuts Bear Brook State Park.

Last week, Holm walked to the town clerk’s office on School Street to hand over $2,750 in back taxes, about half of what she owes the town. The sum was equal to everything she had in the bank – and then some, which she’ll pay for later in hefty overdraft fees.

“We have zero money for the whole month. And then $750 negative next month,” she said.

Holm said she felt like she had little choice. The select board had twice rejected her plan to pay the town back in monthly installments. The second rejection came in front of her children and brought Holm to tears.

“The board doesn’t want to hear it. We already heard it,” board Chairman Jason Tardiff told Holm at the July 24 meeting – within moments of her introducing herself.

That same night, the town’s select board was set to officially take her house, where she lives with her three young daughters, a German shepherd, and a cat. The board ultimately deferred action for two weeks – not at her request, but simply because it didn’t have a full board with one member absent.

The mother of three hadn’t paid the town in 2½ years and was a little less than $5,300 behind on the property taxes on her home, which is valued at $52,200. Holm said she’d long struggled with anxiety and depression, but a series of events, starting with the death of both her parents in 2012, sent her into a spiral. In 2014, she said she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, and she let several things fall by the wayside.

“Basically, 2014 till this spring, I was done. Done ... I didn’t pay any bills. I haven’t taken care of my life at all. And then I didn’t have any money for a while,” she said.

According to Holm, the town did its best to get in touch. They sent notice after notice, and the town clerk, Kathleen Pelissier, even sent a police officer to check on her.

And on three occasions, Holm said, she did try to deal with her mounting bills. She went to the town’s welfare office for help with her rent at the Holiday Acres trailer park, which she received. But the experience was always deeply degrading – when she brought up the death of her parents, a town employee who has since left told her to “get over it.”

“Those were her exact words: ‘Get over it,’ ” Holm said. And when she asked what to do about her back taxes, she claims she was instead encouraged to sell her home.

“She was like, you can’t afford your rent. How are you going to pay your taxes?” Holm said. “That’s when it was in my head: ‘Okay, I can’t keep my house.’ ”

In May, a tax-deed notice arrived on her door, and Holm resolved to stay. Her daughters were happy and well-supported at Allenstown Elementary, she said, and the forest behind their home – with its beaver ponds, vernal pool and painted trilliums, felt as if it grounded the family.

Holm had also been approved for Social Security disability benefits and was on better financial footing. She rushed to the town clerk’s office to set up a payment plan. Her proposal: pay $230 a month for a year, and the following year bump up her payments to $420.

On July 10, the select board voted, 2-1, to deny her plan, with the members in the majority saying it didn’t follow the town’s guidelines.

Pelissier, the town clerk, tried to intervene on Holm’s behalf, writing to the board the following day that they had denied the plan based on false assumptions about the town’s policies. She understood that the town didn’t want to make any exceptions, she said, but nothing in its rules required that the board only grant payment plans that caught residents up fully within a single year.

“Upon clarification of the policy, it appears to me that the denial of the application based on the non-existent criteria used to deny it would be much more likely to promote the assumption of unfairness,” she wrote.

At Pelissier’s urging, Holm went to the board’s next meeting July 24 to plead her case. It didn’t go well.

When Holm tried to mention the town clerk’s appeal, Tardiff cut her off.

“I don’t care what Kathleen wrote,” he replied.

Her voice cracking, Holm begged them to reconsider: “So you’re going to take away my house? Just like that? Without letting me make a payment plan?”

Tardiff’s reply was unequivocal: “This board heard the information at our last meeting that was presented to us, and the board made a decision. And the board’s sticking to that decision.”

With Holm and her three children audibly crying from the audience, Tardiff moved on to the next part of the agenda.

In an interview, Tardiff said he was just trying to carry out the town’s policies in a consistent manner.

“We have guidelines and policies, and we follow that,” he said. “She did not meet that.” And he dismissed the town clerk’s defense of Holm’s proposal as emotional.

“She got a bleeding-heart letter. And that’s what she was going by,” he said.

In the past decade, Allenstown has adopted a more aggressive stance in collecting taxes and deeding properties for homeowners who wouldn’t pay. It did so for a reason, Tardiff said.

“Several years ago, we had pages of people that weren’t paying their taxes,” he said. “We went from pages to a handful. People realized: I have to pay my taxes.”

Tardiff wouldn’t say exactly which policies Holm’s payment plan violated, arguing he worried the information wasn’t public, and deferred those questions to Town Administrator Shaun Mulholland.

Mulholland, for his part, said Holm’s proposal didn’t technically violate the town’s delinquent tax policy, but also didn’t comport with the unwritten standards of typical payment plans – namely, that a homeowner presents a viable plan for making good with the town, usually within one year.

“That wasn’t a solid plan to keep her out of tax deed status,” he said, adding that the town only very rarely denies payment plans.

Both Tardiff and Mulholland repeatedly faulted Holm for not addressing her taxes until the town had notified her of their plans to deed her house.

“She didn’t do nothing. No attempt at all,” Tardiff said.

Holm said it’ll be tough to make it through August without money, but not impossible. She and her daughters will get food from a local pantry, and an old friend has come to stay and help.

The worst, ultimately, wasn’t financial, she said. It was feeling judged at the welfare office, or tersely dismissed at a select board meeting.

“In the time that I say ‘I really need my village’ – not even asking to abate my taxes, but just for a payment plan. Not even being told no, but being treated horribly in front my children – being treated that way in front of my children killed me.”

(Lola Duffort can be reached at 369-3321 or lduffort@cmonitor.com.)