No late penalties to be assessed prior to June 30

📸 Screenshot of Sturbridge Board of Selectmen video conference meeting of April 6, 2020.

STURBRIDGE — Though tax bills were sent out last week with a May 1 deadline, local officials have extended the due date by one month in an effort to provide relief to those financially hamstrung by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Board of Selectmen voted unanimously on Monday night to extend the due date for local property tax bills to June 1, though penalties for unpaid bills will not be enforced prior to June 30.

During a meeting held with a livestreamed video conferencing platform due to coronavirus guidelines and precautions, Town Administrator Jeff Bridges told selectmen the one-month extension is the best local officials can do at this time according to state laws.

“Unfortunately, for now, those dates are set by the State rather than local government,” Bridges explained. “They’ve provided a one month relief and that’s the only tool we have right now, legally.”

Later in the meeting, he elaborated on the legal restrictions communities face in extending property tax deadlines.

“The only local choice you have is to choose to use these tools that the State has provided or not,” he explained. “The extensions are all by local option. You’re only allowed to extend to the point the legislation has provided.”

Some selectmen expressed their frustrations with the extension period, arguing more leniency may be necessary due to the economic impact of COVID-19 prohibitions on businesses and workplaces. Selectwoman Priscilla Gimas noted some of the town’s small businesses may struggle for the foreseeable future, and some may never recover. Mary Dowling, the board’s vice chairwoman, noted that state and federal tax deadlines have been extended by three months, questioning the State’s decision to allow for just one additional month for local tax bills.

With the tax bills having already been sent out, selectmen also discussed the need to alert local taxpayers of the new deadline. Officials agreed placing an announcement on the Town’s website was not sufficient on its own, but that greater outreach would be necessary. The town administrator agreed.

“There needs to be a very intense effort to educate everybody,” Bridges said. “There has to be more than just putting it on the website.” Selectmen unanimously agreed to send letters to all residential and commercial taxpayers to provide notice of the new deadline.

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