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MailTribune.com
  • Phoenix residents find councilors in arrears on taxes

    Officeholders make payments, criticize tax-record research
  • PHOENIX — A pair of councilors with more than $37,000 in past-due taxes made several large payments in recent weeks after residents raised questions about the delinquent accounts.
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  • PHOENIX — A pair of councilors with more than $37,000 in past-due taxes made several large payments in recent weeks after residents raised questions about the delinquent accounts.
    The residents — who have criticized the couple for their stance on the city's medical marijuana debate and other issues — said they looked into county tax records online and had concerns that city officials making decisions about tax dollars would be behind on tax payments.
    Two of the councilors, husband-wife team Stan and Carolyn Bartell, say they are being targeted by citizens unhappy with the sometimes slow wheels of government.
    The Bartells were overdue on payments for as many as four tax years on six of seven properties in Phoenix and Medford. After the issue was raised, the couple made payments of $10,000 on May 2, $26,000 on May 29 and $1,322 on June 6, leaving an overpayment of $62.
    County tax officials said the couple made a combination of credit card and check payments for the properties, including a pair of auto shops along Main Street, a Cheryl Lane residence and one property near Griffin Creek, which was slated for foreclosure prior to the payments.
    Until last week, Councilor Terry Helfrich had a tax balance of just over $6,000, carried over from several year's tax bills. He said he began making payments on the balance when he discovered the arrears, and now owes $3,129 on last year's $3,900 tax bill.
    Carolyn Bartell, who declined to discuss the payments other than to say the couple did "not owe any back taxes," argued that property owners are free to choose when to pay their taxes and said she was saddened by citizen efforts to inspect her tax payments.
    "There are a lot of businesses and homeowners who take more time to pay their taxes and their reasons aren't anyone's business," she said.
    "It's a personal matter, and we don't really have anything more to say, except that it's a personal matter."
    The Bartells later sent an email stating that "concentrating on our retirement" caused the couple to voluntarily put off tax payments in order to focus on an investment opportunity.
    Former council member Steve Schulman, co-coordinator of the Phoenix Council Watch website, said the Bartells were "public officials who are making fiscal decisions but have no skin in the game."
    "If it's not legally wrong, it's morally wrong," Schulman said.
    "They've made comments that they don't want their tax dollars spent for certain things. Well, their tax dollars aren't being spent," said Schulman.
    Helfrich said he understood the concern raised over the issue and felt strongly about paying taxes.
    "Originally, we made an accounting error but it will be paid off within a month or two," Helfrich said. "I'm a firm believer that taxation pays for civilization, and we've got good police and fire and infrastructure in the Rogue Valley. That's what taxes are for."
    Andrea Adams, executive director of The Greenery, took issue with council members' failure to pay their tax bills. Adams, whose dispensary was closed after the city successfully sought an injunction last week, called the past-due taxes "hypocritical."
    Adams said the Bartells were among the most outspoken opponents of a medical marijuana dispensary. The city's moratorium on dispensaries is now the subject of an initiative petition.
    "The Bartells talk a lot about what's best for Phoenix and not only do they try to keep out businesses that could be a benefit to the community and use city funds to harass property owners who are paying their taxes, which is being wasteful of the public's tax money, but they can't even pay their own bills?" Adams said.
    "The hypocrisy is flagrant."
    Adams also described a vacant auto shop on Main Street, owned by the Bartells, as "one of the sadder-looking properties in the downtown."
    "Our building is restored and beautiful and theirs is an eyesore with broken windows and they still have the power to, essentially with help from code enforcement, try to intimidate us out of town," Adams said.
    Carolyn Bartell, who said the city was "actually working on establishing guidelines to allow medical marijuana in Phoenix" said there are plans to redevelop the vacant shop.
    "There's no secret about what's happening with the old shop. We're already talking with city planning department about demolition and remodeling," she said.
    "This whole thing is just very sad. We don't want to be the ones who bring anything negative to the city — we're not getting paid, we're volunteering our time. There's just so much more we could all accomplish if everyone could focus on things that are positive."
    Mayor Jeff Bellah voiced disappointment with the focus on council members' tax bills and said the "negative attacks on citizen volunteers" could detract from the progress being made in Phoenix.
    "It is time for everyone in Phoenix to help move forward in a positive and constructive manner," Bellah said.
    Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. E-mail her at buffyp76@yahoo.com.
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