Springfield discusses Muckross State Park, possible tax sales suspension

SPRINGFIELD, Vt. – The May 11 Springfield Selectboard meeting convened once again on Zoom with a presentation from State Parks Regional Manager Ethan Phelps and Muckross Park Manager Margery Reurink, as well as a discussion on whether the town wanted to suspend tax sales due to the economic impacts of the COVID-19 virus.

Muckross State Park was donated to the state by the late Edgar May in 2016. According to the Vermont State Parks website, it’s currently an undeveloped park with no facilities or phone service and a parking lot that can fit up to six cars.

Phelps said that the state has spent $1.2 million to date in improving infrastructure, which includes rebuilding the road system and replacing the bridge leading to the park. “We now have a road and bridge in place that can handle any kind of reconstruction work or restoration work.”

Phelps also screen-shared a draft proposal of the trail system that would be part of a greater system including some private lands. There is a system of multiple flow-style trails that can accommodate mountain biking, hiking, and trail running. The proposed project would include two more parking areas, a kiosk at the trailhead, and composting toilets. A more detailed report with recommendations for prioritizing and phasing trail construction is in the works.

Margery Reurink had been working with Tammy Stagner, director the All-4-One afterschool childcare program in Springfield. All-4-One also typically hosts a summer day camp called Summer Daze. According to the All-4-One Facebook, the summer program is still tentatively set for July 6. Reurink mentioned that she has been in communication with Stagner on what procedures will be allowed this year due to the coronavirus.

Reurink is also working with the Friends of Muckross group. There are meetings to discuss goals for the park, but much of their work as been on hold for the present.

George McNaughton commented that there is “a general lack of knowledge of the existence of the park in Springfield.” He also asked if the state agencies could work together to make the Eureka Schoolhouse as a welcome center to the park.

Phelps responded that he went to Craig Whipple, director of State Parks, about the idea and Whipple would initiate the discussion with the Agency of Commerce and Community Development as the schoolhouse property is owned and managed by the Division of Historic Preservation.

Jessica Martin, executive director of Springfield on the Move, commented that SOTM is working with the Main Street Committee to possibly add Muckross State Park to the Wayfinding signage project along Route 11 as a way of promoting the park to residents and visitors.

Phelps added that they would also be doing directional signage for the park in the future.

Following the presentation, municipal manager Steven Neratko spoke to the Selectboard about whether they would want to suspend the tax sales due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic issues for people who may struggle to pay their taxes this year. Tax payments were due as of May 15. The State House and Senate passed S.344, which allows for towns to alter property tax payments and delay or waive penalties and interest. Neratko mentioned that there was the opportunity to waive tax sales for the year.

Neratko said there was about $450,000 worth of tax sales that would be possibly suspended for the year, but penalties and interest would continue to accrue.

McNaughton said that he would be in favor of extending the payment date rather than forgoing tax sales for the year altogether. He noted properties that would go up for tax sale regardless of the virus. “I’m just a little uncomfortable with the concept.”

Neratko replied, “Anyone who is going to go up to tax sale has had the opportunity to pay taxes for over a year now and the opportunity to come up with a [payment] plan, and they haven’t done that.”

The $450,000 of possible tax sales includes all properties with two years of delinquencies as well as $67,000 of what would be fourth-quarter payments missed, which was due May 15.

Michael Martin said that S.344 would give the town treasurer the ability to create a policy to waive penalties and interest or set up payment plans as a form of relief for taxpayers having a hard time making payments. As for the current properties on the tax sale list, Martin agreed that they still have been delinquent for two years already. “They have been consistently delinquent in their taxes.”

The Selectboard discussed holding a special meeting to further discuss the issue, but no action was taken that evening. Their next regular meeting will be Tuesday, May 26 at 7 p.m. on Zoom.

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