City Matters Lacelot Avenue house

The Balons have lived in this Manchester home since 1977. Two years ago, the city of Manchester took the title to the home for non-payment of taxes.

On Wednesday, Thomas and Elizabeth Balon will be one step closer to losing the North End home they have lived in since 1977.

Two years ago, the city took title to 41 Lancelot Ave. under the tax deed process. The city sucks this final straw of draconian soda when people don’t pay their tax bills, usually years’ worth.

In the case of the Balons, it was five years of taxes and sewer bills — $46,610.

The tax deed was issued two years ago, and the couple have lived in the house rent-free since then. But last month, the city auctioned off the three-bedroom split-level home. BiTim Enterprises Inc. is scheduled to close on the sale in two days.

At best, the Balons will have a landlord who will start charging rent; at worst, the new owner will have different plans for the house and the Balons will face eviction. (I sent an email to BiTim and did not receive a response.)

Thomas Balon called me last week to tell me he was losing his house. He had to be out by Wednesday (something the city disputes). He had to pack up 46 years of life, he complained.

He said he is 79 and a disabled Vietnam veteran.

“We’ve gone to everybody to ask please would you help us,” said their daughter, Michelle Balon, who lives in Penacook. They will offer resources, but not the help necessary to apply, she said.

Losing a home for any reason is devastating. But in this case, city officials said they had tried for years to financially steady the Balons.

“Every time I spoke to them, we’d go over the same information,” said Brenda Mascewic Adams, the city tax collector. She visited them at their home and welcomed them into her City Hall office, she said.

Adams said she explained how to avoid the tax deed. Because they’re elderly, she urged them to file for age-based tax exemptions. And she urged them to sell.

Historically, their tax payments have been late, and since 2014 there have been none, she said. Although they seemed eligible for exemptions based on age or disability, they never applied.

“It’s probably the saddest story I’ve heard of all these tax deeds,” said city Assessor Robert Gagne, who oversees the exemptions.

At their current age, the Balons likely could qualify for an elderly tax exemption and have their property assessment lowered by $280,000, which could cut their tax bill by about 80%, if they met limits on income and assets holdings.

Michelle Balon said her father was a university graduate and Vietnam veteran who eventually started a business, THB Services, which provided ventilation engineering services to customers.

She said he suffers from Agent Orange exposure. Thomas Balon told me he’s had cancer and a stroke. When he talks on the telephone, he halts his conversation for a second or two, then complains about memory problems.

A lot of that can’t be confirmed. Although Balon contacted me to complain about losing his house, he wouldn’t allow me inside to go over his paperwork, ask some questions or take a photo.

The windows in his house seemed blocked off, and as we spoke on his front step, he complained that a stack of material fell on him that morning in his garage.

The last time we talked, he focused on the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and his plight for full disability status.

“That’s the problem; they kill their own,” he said.

The VA and the City of Manchester aren’t his only problems. The IRS has attached more than $300,000 of liens on his house for unpaid taxes, some stretching back to the late 1980s.

“They’ve taken all my g---- — money. I have zero money. I’ve always had zero money,” he said.

If the IRS chooses to exercise those liens, the Balons won’t get anything after the sale. (The city’s cut of the $235,000 purchase price amounts to $70,370 in back taxes; under state law, the city turns the remainder over to a judge, who decides on the liens.)

“He fell behind,” said his daughter. “His business didn’t go as well. He got old.”

Michelle Balon and her husband found a condo in Concord where she said her parents will eventually end up.

As Gagne said, a sad story. Years of problems that end on the desk of the city tax collector.

“I do not like it,” Adams said about tax deeding. Adams said she does her best to prevent a tax deed. But that doesn’t stop her from fulfilling what she believes are her duties.

Adams has been the city tax collector for six years. She politely says that her two predecessors had fallen behind when it comes to that ultimate step of tax collection, the tax deed.

But she doesn’t. Each year, about 80 properties fall on her tax deed list. They get a formal warning and a deadline, and most start paying.

But from 2017-2021, she’s issued 49 deeds. That’s translated into $2.9 million for the city coffers, and most of those properties are now on the tax rolls generating tax revenue on a regular basis, she said.

“You can only do so much,” she said. “People have to take actions themselves, follow up and do something.”