ELLSWORTH — A man’s home is his castle and his pride and joy. A home is also often passed down through generations, something to leave for younger family members to have and remember the elder ones by.
Ninety-seven-year-old Joseph Comeau had his castle and his joy restored when City Council members unanimously accepted $6,700 on July 19 for all back taxes and penalties owed to the city, which had foreclosed on the Bangor Road property in 1994. Owed was approximately $14,000.
“[Comeau] is a WWII veteran who served his country and fought for our freedoms,” Ellsworth resident Carol Lyons wrote City Manager Glenn Moshier. “Mr. Comeau has clearly stated that he wants to be able to leave this property to his children.”
Lyons raised the several thousand dollars, with a boost from the Gary Owen Motorcycle Club, after learning of Comeau’s plight. She had previously raised money to install a handicapped ramp on Comeau’s home and was moved to action after seeing a photo of the house on a website of foreclosed homes.
“A picture was sent to me in April, and I couldn’t stand it. Basically, that’s how it began,” Lyons said. Although friends and family started putting money down on the tax bill, “it wasn’t even touching the debt, just the interest.”
Enter the Gary Owen MC, which was formed in 2011 to help veterans like Comeau. They threw a birthday bash and fundraiser for Comeau’s 97th in May.
“Basically, that man right there is a prime example of what we do and why we do it,” said club member Shane Fleming, of Hancock, who organized the event. “It’s been quite a battle for the old feller.”
Lyons, who is related to Comeau through marriage, said Comeau did not know that his home was no longer his to pass on to his son, mainly because his wife had handled the couple’s finances. She died in 2016.
“He got very upset because he wanted to be able to pass this property on,” Lyons said.
With $6,700, Lyons decided to see if she could make a deal with the city. It worked.
Moshier said Comeau had “sporadically” paid his taxes since foreclosure began in 1994, and the city “had no intention of taking action” on the foreclosure while Comeau was alive. But after Lyons spoke with him, Moshier reached out to the city assessor and attorney to see if the city could accept less than what was owed in return for a quitclaim deed.
“Once that was confirmed that the council had the authority to do that, we had put [the item] on the [council] agenda,” Moshier said. “I was confident through conversations with multiple councilors that there wouldn’t be any resistance.”
He added, “I think it’s fantastic. It’s unfortunate it went as long as it did. With those two exemptions, his tax bill is basically zero for the city.”
After foreclosure proceedings began in 1994, Comeau had worked with the city on payment arrangements but was unaware of the current homestead and veteran exemptions for property owners, Moshier explained. The two exemptions just about cover his current annual tax payment, and Comeau will not even have to handle the yearly bill.
“As a veteran of the military, and going to war, the one thing was he never wanted to lose was his land. It was his and he was holding it dear,” Lyons said after the council voted to accept the $6,700 as payment in full. Due was about $14,000, including penalties. She said he plans to leave the house to his son, who is also a veteran.
Helping resolve Comeau’s situation was exactly why the Gary Owen MC formed.
“My heart is singing today, I’m so happy,” Fleming said. “This was one of the times when it worked. Sometimes it doesn’t.”
A GoFundMe fundraiser is underway to help with house maintenance costs at www.gofundme.com/f/ww2-veteran-joseph?qid=9f1ef619a25aa7175d640542311f6a04.