#97: Caribou, ME 4/10/17

“Before we start, I just wanna announce: a public hearing on marijuana usage was scheduled for tonight. That won’t be tonight–it wasn’t in the paper, I guess,” a contrite Mayor Gary Aiken warned as councilors stared stone-faced (no pun intended) ahead.

And thus, the Caribou city council meeting started off innocently–and amusingly–enough. However, as citizens lined up to speak, the meeting slowly morphed into an increasingly depressing debtors court.

“We’ve had back taxes for quite some time since my dad took ill. He’s been a couple years passed away,” a man admitted earnestly off-camera. One councilor leaned back. Another crossed his arms.

“So are you prepared to pay the $11,960.76?” the mayor quizzed him.

“Today? No,” the man flatly replied.

Councilor Joan Theriault scrutinized his case file like a sympathetic magistrate judge. “In 2018, you would get a $20,000 homestead exemption,” she finally looked up to inform him. “Make sure you apply.”

“It’s been on my mind for quite some time now. But…I can only do what I can only do,” he inexplicably shrugged off her advice.

As he left the podium, another citizen in dire straits took his place. The mayor massaged his forehead as the desperate plea began.

“We have approximately $2,000 to give,” the man sniffed. “My family’s gonna help us to clear that bill up.”

His wife chimed in unprompted. “You know what my grandmother used to say? ‘Experience is good if you don’t pay too dearly for it.'”

The panel of councilors remained expressionless.

caribou.jpg
The people’s court

She continued, “You guys have been really, really good and leaned over backwards for him–”

“I’m glad you understand that because I don’t think he understands that,” Mayor Aiken sharply retorted.

Her husband shot back, “I understand that.”

The mayor ignored him. “As of right now, the property is gonna go up for sale–”

“PLEASE take that out of the equation,” interjected the man acidly.

“Take what out of the equation?” the mayor leaned forward, genuinely confused.

“What you just said,” he spat. “Don’t say that to me.”

His wife was horrified.  “Knock it off. KNOCK. IT. OFF.”

As her husband protested, councilors sat motionless with their hands clamped in their laps. Picking a fight in front of the people who might sell your house is probably not in “The Art of the Deal.”

“So, it’s part of the equation,” the mayor repeated. Husband and wife did not reply. The council dictated the terms: the man would pay $500 in the next 21 days, plus another $350 by May 5.

There was an uncomfortable pause as councilors watched the feuding spouses shuffle out of the room.

A third man stepped forward to spin a long story about dutifully paying his taxes–sighing the whole time.

“Do you have your receipts?” Councilor Theriault peered over her glasses.

“No,” he breathed another baritone sigh. “I wasn’t very good at keeping receipts. My father’s name is the same, so things kinda get opened that shouldn’t. Uh, it’s hard to explain when you live with the same name.”

Councilor Philip McDonough was done with excuses. “Every time the situation comes up, it’s a different subject for each person! You bring in what you owe and we’ll turn your deed back to you.”

He slapped the table angrily. “Yes, it’s hard to sit here and say that. And it’s hard listening to them.  But the rest of our citizens have an obligation and they all meet it.”

Sighing Man turned away disgustedly. “I’m sorry, but you’ve offended me, sir.” He stepped out the door, closing it behind him.

The council stared silently.

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