GARDINER — After learning that a newly elected city councilor has failed to pay real estate and sewer taxes since 2014 and 2013, members of the Gardiner City Council on Wednesday called on her to resign.

Penny Sergent was elected in November to an at-large seat on City Council that opened up when Jon Ault declined to seek another term.

At Wednesday’s City Council meeting, Mayor Patricia Hart said she was concerned when Sergent’s name appeared on the list of properties the city has foreclosed on for unpaid taxes.

“She swore an oath to follow the laws of the state and the city in January,” Hart said. “She hasn’t paid taxes since 2014, and she hasn’t paid her sewer since 2013.”

Penny Sergent

According to city records, as of Feb. 9, Sergent owes $10,256.46 in real estate taxes dating back to 2014 and $2,125.86 in sewer taxes dating back to 2013.

Sergent did not take part in Wednesday’s meeting, and did not immediately return a call for comment.

Hart said Sergent would not take part as a councilor in any discussions and would be given the choice to recuse herself from any discussions of the city’s tax-acquired properties. Hart said if she did not recuse herself the council could vote that she has a conflict of interest.

“We’re all pretty surprised and disappointed,” Hart said.

District 2 Councilor Amy Rees said she was deeply disappointed to see Sergent’s name on the list of delinquent taxpayers.

“Her decision to run for City Council without disclosing to the voters of Gardiner she doesn’t pay taxes and doesn’t pay her sewer bill is really dishonest,” Rees said. “Without this knowledge, the voters elected her to represent them and make decisions about how their tax money is going to be spent. I have a hard time believing that the voters would have elected Councilor Sergent if they had known she lives in Gardiner in a house that the city has foreclosed on for nonpayment of taxes and sewer bills.”

Rees said Sergent and her family receive the same services that other property owners and renters receive from plowed streets to police and fire protection and have access to the library and other amenities.”

“I can’t speak to Ms. Sergent’s motivation for running for City Council, however in light of the deceit which has been perpetrated when she ran for office without honestly disclosing her situation to Gardiner taxpayers and voters, I call on her to immediately resign her position on City Council. In my opinion, it is the only honorable thing for her to do.”

Other city councilors agreed.

“I wish that this had been brought to our attention before the election,” At-large City Councilor Tim White said. “I wholeheartedly agree with the deceit and everything, she should resign her position on the council. We have to make hard decisions for the city with the taxpayers’ dollars and I am not sure that she could do that in good faith, especially as she has not made an attempt to pay anything for several years.”

On Wednesday, city elected officials were asked to review a list of 16 tax-acquired properties and to give guidance on how they wanted to proceed. Several were foreclosed on recently, including four in January. Several are vacant land. Several have been put out to bid but received no offers. Others have been foreclosed on for several years, and while the occupants had said they would sign a contract and make payments, none has.

Kathleen Cutler, Gardiner’s tax collector, said once the city forecloses, she has the opportunity to set up a meeting between the taxpayer and the City Council to make arrangements to pay the amount owed.

“People make an effort, and you want to work with them and keep them in their home,” she said. “But we also have an obligation to the people who pay their taxes in Gardiner. We don’t want everybody who pays their taxes to absorb the burden.”

She noted that city officials work with residents, and the city offers a sewer discount program and property tax relief program and encourages people to seek out other services like food banks.

“I don’t want anybody to feel like we don’t make an effort to help people,” Cutler said. “We make an effort to help everybody that we can help. We don’t want to take people’s homes, but at some point people have to help themselves.”

Cutler, who has worked at the city for 14 years, said in that time the city has evicted two families from tax-acquired properties. One went willingly, she said, and city officials evicted the other.

According to city records, Sergent came before the City Council in 2019 to ask to buy back the property, agreeing to make small payments every month. She has not filled out repayment paperwork and has made no payments.

The City Council authorized Cutler to move ahead on seeking resolution on three properties, including Sergent’s.

 

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