The City Council referred the tax abatement proposal to the Finance Committee.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — The city is looking into a program to allow seniors to work off some of their tax bill.
On Tuesday, the City Council referred a proposal to start a senior citizen tax abatement program to the Finance Committee for consideration.
The program would allow a certain number of residents over the age of 60 to work for the city and in return receive a lower property tax bill.
"We're all in this together and we all feel the pinch of hard economic times," said Councilor Nancy Bullett. "I think it is a valid program to investigate."
The program was presented by Councilor Jennifer Breen, who said it would be one way to help those living on fixed income to keep up with their bills. She received support from Mayor Richard Alcombright.
"This would help a percentage of senior citizens and that is my interest," Breen said.
Alcombright said the city would have to look at the types of jobs those in the programs can do and "go through the math" of how it would affect the city's budget. He added that the city could cap the amount seniors can work off and cap the number of people who can enroll in the program.
While Councilor John Barrett III said a better way to help seniors is to reduce the overall tax burden on everyone, Breen contended that this is a way to help since taxes go up every year.
"I voted against a tax increase," Breen said.
The city of Pittsfield recently rolled out the first phase of a similar program on a limited basis until it can be assessed. A number of smaller towns, including Clarksburg, already have a senior tax-exemption program.
In other business, Alcombright is proposing to change the hours of operation in City Hall to be open from 8 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, closing a half-hour early, and continue the summer hours of 8 a.m. until 1:30 p.m. on Fridays. Employees would work the same about of hours but lunch periods would be reduced, he said.
"All department heads checked with their staff about the shortened lunch hours," he said, adding that the response has been favorable.
He added that a lockbox can been installed outside so that residents can still drop of tax payments and other applications when the building is closed. Also, he said the majority of the applications and fees can be done online, so there is ample opportunity for residents to conduct business.
The proposal was referred to the General Government Committee for further review. However, councilors said they would like to see a proposal that incorporates extended hours during the week.
"I don't know how much this change helps the community at large," Breen said, adding that the majority of the residents work during City Hall hours so staying open late one evening could help.
Councilor Lisa Blackmer said the shortened hours could slow the process of residents getting building permits because they would not be able to go to City Hall on a Friday afternoon. She added that almost all other businesses have extended hours.
Alcombright, however, said the city has not received any complaints about the summer hours or requests to change them, and that Friday afternoons are slow.
"I think our hours certainly seem to serve the public," Alcombright said.
Councilor Keith Bona agreed, saying "if they feel Friday afternoon is a slow time and they are willing to work that extra time during their lunch... If the employees are OK with it, then I am OK with it."
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