LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — Town Manager Paul Sieloff would like to increase the tax collector's hours and become more proactive in chasing down delinquent payers.
Sieloff said on Monday that he's working on a proposal to increase Caryn Wendling's hours from 18 to 30. Wendling also works part time in Peru, and Sieloff said she'd still work there while increasing hours in Lanesborough.
"I think it would be good for the town to have her come in on Tuesday nights as well and have four days of tax collection," Sieloff said.
The town manager didn't have a specific number of the amount of unpaid taxes but said typically only the most egregious cases end up going into tax title. Working only 18 hours a week, Sieloff said much of the tasks are ultimately delayed while she processes the bills for the both taxes and the Water Department.
"This would be a moderate increase in cost," Sieloff said, estimating an increase of between $8,000 and $10,000.
That cost would be cut in half for this year, with the expanded hours starting in January and then the full cost budgeted for the following fiscal year. The money for the last half of this year would require a town meeting vote.
The salary is split between the Water Department and Sieloff said the department has agreed to fund a similar increase if the hours are increased. Currently, the tax collector's office is open on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m. and on Wednesday night from 5 until 7 p.m. Residents also have the option to pay their bills online.
Sieloff believes if the hours are expanded, it would give her more time to move tax title processes forward and the collection rate will increase.
"I think it is good value," he said.
Sieloff is also considering a proposal to increase the hours of Council on Aging Director Lorna Gayle. The town's Finance Committee had asked if there was more than can be done to help the aging population and Sieloff is considering working with the state Department of Transitional Assistance on a Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program partnership.
The state is looking to partner with Council on Agings for outreach work for the SNAP program and is willing to pay up to 50 percent of the administrative costs associated with the work.
"I feel very strongly that we need to do more for seniors," Sieloff said.
The program helps connect seniors with the federal low-income food assistance program. Sieloff said the benefit also gives more face to face time between Gayle and the seniors, some of whom are often in isolation most of the time. He said not every senior in town participates in the lunch or transportation program and this is another way to reach that population.
"It gets the interaction going with the senior services director," he said.
He told the Finance Committee that another future possibility for seniors would be to look to the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission to help with bringing in a housing specialist -- like the town had done with an economic development planner. Sieloff said during surveys residents have voiced a desire for more senior housing.
The Finance Committee is also looking to hear from school officials regarding the proposed regionalization agreement. The two elementary schools and the high school are proposed to fully regionalize. The vote is in November.
The proposal is nearing finalization and presentations are expected to be held. Sieloff said he hopes to see a final draft later this week and that will be forwarded to the Board of Selectmen to be placed on the warrant for a special town meeting.
The Board of Selectmen already held one public meeting on the topic and heard many pros and cons. In October, the Finance Committee is expecting to hear a presentation from those crafting the regionalization agreement on the final proposal.
Sieloff said already the schools have made a particularly important change for Lanesborough when it comes to local control.
"They have decided to break out the elementary school budgets so each elementary school can have its own individual budget which is not exclusively controlled by Mount Greylock," Sieloff said. "This is a good thing for people who are concerned about losing local control."
Finance Committee Chairman Ray Jones would like an added level of local control by allowing the town to walk away from the agreement if it deems it is not working.
"If we don't like the way it is going and we want to steer our ship out of it, can we do it without asking someone's permission?" Jones said. "I don't want to have to have anybody else permission, anybody else votes."
The agreement will have the process of breaking the agreement detailed, which the committee will be able to review in October.
Finance Committee member Ronald Tinkham wants to reopen the funding formula as well. Tinkham wants a piece added that will include Williams College and other tax-exempt properties in the equalization value. That would raise up Williamstown's share of the annual cost for the schools while decreasing Lanesborough's.
"That has a major financial impact on the formula," Tinkham said.
Finance Committee member Steven Wentworth, however, said that's not going to happen. He doesn't believe the town of Williamstown would approve such a change.
"You are not going to get it because no town is going to put that on there and if they did, it wouldn't pass. It is as simple as that," Wentworth said. "It is dead on an arrival in any town that has a significant amount of tax-exempt property."
Some Lanesborough officials had pushed for that in sharing the capital costs associated with building the new high school but it got little support and was never included in the agreement that was approved by town meeting. Changes to have regional agreement has to be approved by both towns.
Wentworth said regionalization would be a benefit for the town financially. It makes the system operate much more efficiently and brings in more revenue.
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