Thursday, January 26, 2012

Illegal Video Poker Games Found, Say Brockton PD

By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—Two Brockton businesses—Patriot Convenience and Joe Angelo’s Café--will face possible license and criminal penalties after Brockton Police said they found illegal gambling video machines at both locations during License Commission inspections.
“We are pursuing these violations both at the state and local level,” said Capt. Manuel Gomes.
Gomes said Code Enforcement Officer Scott Uhlman spotted the video gaming machines in rear rooms of each establishment, and police believe they may have been used for illegal gambling.
“We’re told all the time they're for entertainment purposes,” Gomes said.  
Gomes said he couldn’t say if much, or any, money was gambled via the video games.
Gomes said a full report of the video games will be forwarded to the License Commission, who are expected to hold a disciplinary hearing on each business, if not next month, sometime in the future.
“Penalties could run the gamut of fines, suspension, and even the revocation of the license,” Gomes said.
Gomes said the state Attorney General’s Office would also be contacted for potential criminal charges, however, Gomes said, under most circumstances the penalties that can be inflicted at the local level are often more harsh.
“They can pull the license,” Gomes said.
Joe Angelo, owner of Joe Angelo’s Café on Main and Crescent Streets, said his four video poker games have all the required state licenses and are legal.
He said there was no gambling going on, and the reason the videos were in a back room, closet-like space was because he had to move them from the front dining room when he hired a new chef and needed to create a new waitress station.
However, because he is already facing sanctions from the License Commission because of a stabbing outside the bar and other issues, Angelo said he is going to remove the video machines from the bar-restaurant.
“They hold all of the cards,” Angelo said.
A police log entry by Officer Uhlman states at 12:52 p.m. on Jan. 19 he found four video gambling games in a separate room with “people drinking, smoking, and gambling.”
Patriot Convenience, located at 963 Main St., whose owners could not immediately be reached, had two video poker machines and another video game towed away and seized by police as evidence last week.
The machines were seized Jan. 19.
Joe Angelo’s’ machines were not seized.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Property Tax Bill Fight Needs Sales, Housing Data

By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—Homeowner Bill Russell and more than 30 other residents met Wednesday night to hear the numerous steps and research they must complete to possibly reduce their property tax bills—in some cases which have jumped $15,000 to $20,000 this quarter.
One resident, Bill Russell, who lives at 39 Grinnell Road, adjacent to Deanna Road where many residents have issues, showed his latest tax bill that went from $159,000 to $180,900—a more than $21,000 difference and wondered even if he went through the process to gain an abatement, or a decrease in the tax assessment, if the city assessors would lower his bill.
“You know they’re not going to do anything,” Russell told the crowd that gathered Wednesday at the Arnone Elementary School. Ward 2 City Councilor Thomas Monahan organized the meeting because he has received dozens of calls, as has his fellow councilors about the jump in residents’ tax bills during this quarter that are for the 2011-2012 fiscal year.
Nearly 50 residents and officials attended. Residents must file an abatement petition by Feb. 1 in order to have the city officially review the assessed value.
During the meeting Bill Bearce, owner of Bearce Insurance, said residents will have to do a lot of research to show the city assessor’s office that the assessed property value, a calculation which all tax bills are based, is too high for the current home sales market.
“It’s a paper-laden process and it’s also a research-laden process,” Bearce said.
A description City Assessor Paul Sullivan would agree with.
Sullivan, in a telephone interview late last week, said residents must follow a deadline-oriented process that begins at City Hall.
“Read the website, read the website, read the website,” Sullivan said.
The assessor’s website outlines all of the steps residents must take in order to request their assessment be lowered.
It also lists criteria for those who can ask for tax deferments—or postpone of paying tax bills—such as the elderly.
Sullivan stressed that the website offers residents a lot of information on the how the city calculates a property’s assessment and the process of what residents must do if they disagree with the city’s number. “You have to prove us wrong,” Sullivan said.
“You can’t just come in and say, “I don’t want to pay this. I don’t want to pay any tax.' You have to prove us wrong. Prove us wrong,” he said.
Also topping the list of resident must dos is filing an abatement request by Feb. 1.
During last night’s meeting, Bearce agreed residents need to be armed with information such as sales data or square foot percentages and not anger and indignation.
“It keeps going back to ‘what would someone buy your house for,’” Bearce said.
Bearce said City Councilor Thomas Monahan has posted a link on his website for home sales “comps,” or comparables.
Residents can type in their address and search their neighbors’ property values to see if one house is larger or smaller than the other and has the same assessed value.
Bill Russell and several Deanna Road residents, a street they said has no more than 12 houses on it and is a Campanelli development where the houses are all very similar, have seen their assessed values jump $10,000 to $20,000.
Russell, who has lived his house since 1970 when the neighborhood was constructed, said he believes the reason is because two homes in the neighborhood were bought as foreclosures, completely gutted and renovated with new kitchens, bathrooms, decks and other accessories.
Bearce and Bernie Hassan from Briarwood Real Estate looked at Russell’s bill and some others in the neighborhood like Jerry Epstein, a retired truck driver living on a fixed income whose tax bill for his house on Deanna Road increased by $16,000 and said the group had some ammunition to take to the assessors. Officials suggested meeting with the assessors office informally, but if that initial meeting was unsatisfactory, then residents must file an abatement petition by Feb. 1.
Forms are available at the assessor’s office or on the board’s website.
The assessors office does not actually hold a hearing unless the resident asks for one. The assessor’s office must issue a written decision.
If the decision is unsatisfactory to the resident, the next step is an appeal to the state Appellate Tax Board. Registrar of Deeds John Buckley said his website also has information about foreclosures and home sales from not only Brockton, but also the more than 20 other cities and towns in Plymouth County.
He urged residents to view the website, contact his office or city councilors if they need help to do the research because it is the information about area sales and comparable home values that residents must be armed with to even begin the abatement process.
“The more evidence you have--the better,” Buckley said. “Data speaks for itself,” he added.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Grease Ignites Johnson Court Fire

By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—A blaze at a Johnson Court three-story apartment house has left more than a dozen people without a home after firefighters knocked out a fire that began on the third floor.
“The third floor and the roof were heavily involved,” said Fire Chief Richard Francis Monday morning.
He said he believed 14 people living in the building are now looking for a place to stay.
Francis said the Friday night fire, which began at about 9:17 p.m, is believed to have started when a man on the third floor made French fires in a pan full of grease.
Francis said the man told fire officials he made the French fries and believed he had turned off the pan on the stove when he went to eat them.
However, his snack was interrupted when the kitchen filled with smoke and a roaring fire began to spread through the top floor of the house at 10 Johnson Court.
Francis said one occupant was transported to an area hospital and suffered smoke inhalation. He said she is believed to be fine.
The second and first floors were evacuated and otherwise no one was hurt.
“Anytime you can contain the fire to the house or floor where the fire is, you’ve done a good job,” Francis said.
He said battling the fire was made difficult because of the narrow street and the electrical wires that criss-cross the road from house-to-house on the tightly packed street that has a handful of other high occupancy three-story apartment houses.
“We had a lot to contend with,” Francis said.
The American Red Cross is helping individuals and families who may have been displaced by the blaze.
He said part of the roof caved into the third floor and the first and second floors have suffered extensive water damage.
Francis said the building has been deemed uninhabitable at this time, and residents who receive a letter from the Fire Department indicating the building has been ruled as unlivable, may be able to seek help through the Brockton Housing Authority.
For those in the future who might be cooking French fries in a pan on a stove full of hot grease, if there is a fire the last thing to do is throw water on it.
"If you have a grease fire do NOT throw water on it," Francis said. "When you have hot grease and you throw water on it, all it does is splatter and everything around it--curtains, napkins, anything--can catch fire," he said.
The best way to put out a grease fire is to cover it and smother the flames. If the fire is still contained in a pan, Francis said use a pot cover to smother it. If it has spread, use an extinguisher rated for grease fires.
He said baking soda or flour might help smother it, but the best thing to do before trying to fight the fire is call the Fire Department.
"Call us first," Francis said.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Stacks Of Plans For 2012 At Brockton Libraries

By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON—Brockton Public Library advocates are not only looking forward to the new year, they are waiting with anticipation for 2012’s first Friday the 13th when the main branch library will open its doors on a Friday for the first time in years.
“We are really excited about it,” said Elizabeth Marcus Wolfe, Brockton Public Library’s new director. “There are lot of people to thank for making this happen,” she said.
Starting on Friday, Jan. 13 the main branch library will open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Also, the hours at the West Branch and East Branch libraries will be expanded.
The West will open at 2 p.m. instead of 3 p.m. beginning Jan. 11 and the East will open at 2 instead of 3 p.m. on Thursdays, starting Jan. 12.
The extra hour for each of the branches coincides with the 2 p.m. closing of the high school and middle schools near the two libraries.
Wolfe said students for years have walked past the libraries at 2 p.m. instead of walking in to complete homework or divert from other activities afterschool that might not be of a positive nature.
“We want to capture that student population—junior high and high school students,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe, who took over three months ago, said it was the library’s staff who are making the new hours possible by their willingness to take on different roles and responsibilities, including administrative staff manning the public desk on Fridays at the main branch.
She said the library’s employee schedule is very complex, and very tight, and a lot of work went into extending hours, and appreciates everyone’s hard work to bring a much-desired result.
Wolfe said the staff is “stretching its resources” and although the main branch at 304 Main St., will be open 8 additional hours, some services such as extensive research or special events or children’s programs will not be available, but overall opening the main branch on Fridays and adding an extra hour each at the branches is a step in the right direction.
“All felt it was the right thing to do,” Wolfe said.
On the job for about three months, Wolfe said she has had the chance to meet with the library’s directors, patrons and members of Friends of Brockton Public Library, get a preliminary view for the future.
She said extending library hours is not only a way to better serve the public, but also chips away at the Brockton system’s teetering position as a state certified facility.
Due to budget cuts, numerous areas have been neglected Wolfe said, jeopardizing Brockton’s certification status, a situation that results in the city getting less money from state aid.
She said through a discount program the city has retained its certification and some state money, but worries that program will not last much longer.
“It’s a compromise already. Some people might say we don’t have the money for other services like the schools, police or fire, so just close the library, or don’t buy books, but the state doesn’t give money to libraries that are just warehouses for old books,” Wolfe said.
“We’re losing money because of it,” Wolfe said. “We need to have that full certification,” she said.
Also on the docket for the upcoming year, Wolfe said, is the beginning of a capital improvement fund to renovate the West Branch, a building she said is fraught with electrical, plumbing, heating, and other structural deficiencies.
“The whole building needs to be renovated,” Wolfe said.
Another initiative for 2012 that is in its early stages is the development of a long-range strategic plan.
Wolfe said library officials will host meetings and other events to seek information from residents, volunteers, government officials—everyone and anyone to let them know what people like about the library, what they don’t, what they might want to see the library offer in the future.
“A café? That’s something we can look at,” Wolfe said.
Wolfe, 58, vivacious, quick-witted, and with a good sense of humor, is a native of Bridgewater.
She graduated from Bridgewater-Raynham High School and went on to earn her undergraduate degree at Harvard University in English and history. She received a master’s in library sciences and media from Simmons College, where she has taught as an adjunct professor.
She was the director at Braintree’s Thayer Public Library before taking the position in Brockton.
She has two adult children, daughter Laura and son Greg.
Currently Wolfe lives in Holliston, but is in the process of selling her house to meet a residency requirement for her position.
“I have 9 months to go,” Wolfe said, crossing her fingers that her sells within the one-year residency requirement stipulated in her contract.
At first glance Wolfe might not look like someone who would fit-in as director of a city library system where the population’s majority is more than 50 percent minority and for-better-or-worse boasts a reputation predominantly based on the city’s crime rate.
Wolfe--known as Betsy--chuckled at the erroneous first impression.
She said she recognizes and is aware of the wealth of positives in Brockton and negatives associated with city life—homelessness, poverty, mental illness, drugs and crime that permeate some of the elements in the community.
Wolfe said the first stop to combat some of those problems is a free and open library for all—one of the most important offerings of a democratic civilization.
“I like diversity--Brockton is a city that has so much potential,” Wolfe said. “I’ll be an advocate for the library and its services. Having our doors open as much as possible for as many people as possible is so important—literacy is the cornerstone of our society,” she said.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

U.S. Postal Service Holds Brockton Hearing

BROCKTON--United States Postal Service officials and employees will meet tonight in Brockton for one of several meetings across the region for the U.S. Post Office to take comments from the public about a feasibility study that could close or consolidate area distribution facilities, including one in Brockton.
The plan could affect hundreds of jobs and businesses in the area near the distribution sites.
Information from the U.S. Post Office's website is as follows:
Postal Service Managers will give an overview and listen to community input regarding a proposal to move mail processing operations from the Brockton, MA Processing and Distribution Facility to the Providence Rhode Island Possessing and Distribution Facility.
Postal Officials from the Greater Boston Postal District will be in attendance to make a presentation and field comments and questions.
Wednesday, January 4, 2012
6 p.m. to 8 p.m.
West Middle School--Cafeteria
271 West Street
Brockton, MA
Recently, the USPS undertook an Area Mail process (AMP) feasibility study at the Brockton Processing and Distribution Facility. The Greater Boston District Office has completed its review and submitted it to the Northeast Area office for consideration.
The USPS welcomes public input and will hold a meeting to explain the proposal on Wednesday, January 4, 2012.
The USPS will post a meeting agenda and a presentation, along with a summary of the brief, on their website,, one week prior to the meeting.
The USPS will also accept any public comment on the study up to 15 days after the meeting.
For those who cannot attend the meeting, comments may be mailed to:
Consumer & Industry Contact Manager
Greater Boston District
25 Dorchester Ave.
Boston, MA 02205-9631
Hearings will also be held in Shrewsbury, tomorrow, Thursday, Jan. 5 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Richard D. Carney Municipal Office Building, 100 Maple Ave.
and in Waltham at Waltham High School from 6 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 10.
The first hearing was held yesterday in Wareham.

Mayor Balzotti States Tax Bills' Land Data Wrong, Tax Amount Correct

BROCKTON--Mayor Linda M. Balzotti issued a press release about wrong information on the latest tax bills that numerous people have said the land acreage of their homes was wrong.
Here is the statement:
Mayor Linda Balzotti today (Wednesday, Jan. 3) investigated concerns about the most
recent property tax bills issued by the City of Brockton.
The acreage amount listed on the tax bills was misprinted. Taxes owed and property
value were correct.
“Kelley & Ryan Associates failed to adjust their printing program for a change in the
MUNIS acreage field,” said Mayor Balzotti.
The upgrade, completed by the city in October 2011, increased the number of digits that can be listed after the decimal point in the acreage content field.
Kelley & Ryan was notified of the MUNIS upgrade in November of 2011. Tax bills for the third financial quarter of FY ’12 were not printed until the tax rate was set by the City Council.
James J. Broduer, Jr., Vice President of Operations for Kelley & Ryan Associates said
the company had been notified by the City of Brockton’s Information Technology
Department in November, but failed to make a change to their printing program.
The required change has since been made. Broduer also said this error was in no part due to the file sent by the City of Brockton.
Once the problem was identified, city officials immediately contacted the Massachusetts Department of Revenue.
The DOR is the overseer of all property taxes issued in the state.
On Monday (Jan. 3rd), the DOR advised the city that, “the errors in the third quarter
actual tax bill are limited to the acreages included in the property descriptions, increasing them by a factor of 10, and there were no misleading errors in the value, tax, due date, or abatement guidelines…The bills would be considered valid for all important purposes.
In addition, when the city issues any fourth quarter bills, the error should be corrected and an explanation of the change from the third quarter bill should be included.”
Kelley & Ryan has handled the printing of city bills for at least the last five years.
The City of Brockton issues more than 20,000 property tax bills each quarter.
The City of Brockton Tax Collector electronically sends information to Kelley & Ryan for inclusion on tax bills. A random sample of property tax bills – both residential and commercial – are sent to the city for review each financial quarter. T
he samples are checked by both the Tax Collectors’ and Assessors’ offices for calculation errors – value, tax rate, total tax, and date. The city then approves the sample bills before they are mailed.
To avoid a recurrence of this issue, Mayor Balzotti said that moving forward city staff will review each and every data field on the property tax bill samples prior to approval.
A mass-mailing explaining the misprint will be sent out to all Brockton property owners the week of January 10, said Mayor Balzotti.
Kelley & Ryan will cover the cost of the mailing.
For more information about this issue, please contact the Assessors’ Office at 508- 580-7194.

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Tax Hike Repeal Rally Expected Before Inauguration

By Lisa E. Crowley
BROCKTON--Opponents of a tax increase for homeowners and other city issues will hold a rally at City Hall Monday, Jan. 2 at 9:30 a.m., 30 minutes before Mayor Linda Balzotti will be inaugurated for her second term in office.
Ron Matta, who ran against Balzotti and lost in the November election, said a group has been organizing over the holiday weekend to protest numerous issues in the city.
The rally is expected to take place at 9:30 a.m.
Leading the rally will be Kate Archard, who ran unsuccesfully for a city councilor-at-large seat. On her Facebook page, Archard notes the residential tax increase jumped her bill by $200.
Last month the City Council, by one vote, increased the residential tax rate from $15.46 to $16.14 per $1,000 of assessed value.
Archard's post also states the acreage description on her bill is inaccurate, and demands a repeal of the tax hike.
Balzotti's inauguration and expected speech is scheduled for 10 a.m. and will be followed by the swearing in of new and reelected members to various committees and boards.