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School Changes to Have Little Impact On Lanesborough's Management

By Andy McKeeveriBerkshires Staff
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Town Manager Paul Sieloff updates the Finance Committee on Monday.
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — Town Manager Paul Sieloff doesn't expect much to change with the elementary school transitioning to the Mount Greylock Regional School District.
Sieloff said the employee contracts will all be in the district budget in July. The transition team will be merging union contracts, bringing all the workers under the same system. But, the school district will be billing the town for those services.
Sieloff said the only real difference the town will see is that there will be one less line in the budget for insurance, with the school employee insurance being reflected in the district budget.
"We're going to have minimal impact. It is mostly administrative, back office stuff," Sieloff told the Finance Committee on Monday.
The move will take about half of the employee's health insurance off of the town's books, eliminating that budget line altogether.
"The number will be reduced because we are passing those costs onto the district and the district is charging it back to us," Sieloff said.
When it comes to setting that budget, Sieloff said the town will still have oversight. The district agreement, approved at a special town meeting last month, still puts the elementary school budget decisions in the hands of the town. 
"To some degree, you are going to have the same oversight on the elementary school budget," Sieloff said.
In other business, the Finance Committee is still looking for ways to do more for senior citizens. Member Ronald Tinkham said the senior population is expected to significantly increase in the coming years. He recently met with the Council on Aging board to get a handle on different programs the town can offer.
Tinkham believes is there is a need for more senior housing. The town had purchased a parcel of land off Prospect Street years ago with the intention to build senior housing but the federal grant program eyed to move that along fell through. Tinkham wants to rekindle the push to build senior housing somewhere in town.
He is also pushing for a way to provide tax relief. He said the town at one point in time had a program to reduce property taxes for seniors of a certain age and who had lived in town for a long time. The senior would pay for town services, but wouldn't be responsible for costs associated with education.
"I pushed on them to try to explore that," Tinkham said.
He recently went to a food service program in Adams and returned with arms full of food to give out to locals. He said programs like that are available all over the county but often many seniors are unaware of it. He'd like to increase awareness of those type of programs and possibly even have the Council on Aging provide transportation.
Another program he'd like to explore is a way to fix items for seniors. He said a lot of widows are currently struggling with maintenance issues but want to stay in their homes. He'd like to see somebody available to do those items.
But, he also wants to hear from the seniors about what they want and need. He said he wants to release a survey to get that input.
Meanwhile, the town is looking to make investments in the Council on Aging. Sieloff is looking to expand the hours of Council on Aging Director Lorna Gayle from 18 to 28. The increase of hours will nearly all be offset by a federal grant. The additional hours are eyed to have her provide more outreach to the community.
"She is pretty much office-bound most of the time. These extra hours will allow her to get out into the community," Sieloff said.
Tinkham, however, would rather see the town use the grant money to hire somebody to specifically focus on outreach. 
"I don't want the outreach person task to fall to the bottom of the list," Tinkham said.
Sieloff is also looking to expand the hours of Tax Collector Caryn Wendling. Sieloff said Wendling works some 20 or so hours in Peru, which offers her health insurance. To increase her hours in Lanesborough, Sieloff said she'd be eligible for health insurance. Peru has agreed to split that cost -- meaning Lanesborough shoulders less of the burden it could have and Peru gets its cost cut in half. 
Sieloff said the Water District has agreed to split the town's portion of the health insurance increase -- so only a quarter of the entire cost will come from the town's budget. Sieloff said the increased hours of 18 to 27 will allow her to focus more on collecting back taxes and allow more chances for residents to be able to stop in the office and pay.
"In both cases, the Selectmen and the Finance Committee has wanted to look at this creatively so we can feel comfortable that there is a little fiscal restraint," Sieloff said. "In both cases, we were able to mitigate the cost of the hour increases."
Finance Committee Chairman Ray Jones said he wants to make sure the agreement with Peru and the Water District includes her future retiree health insurance as well.
Also in other business, Moderator Robert Reilly told the Finance Committee that the crafting and reading of warrant articles at town meetings have not been running smoothly. He said the town's attorney crafted the motions in years past and provided copies to the Finance Committee chairman and himself. Reilly would then call on the Finance Committee chairman to read them.
However, in recent years, Reilly said the process of getting the language from the attorney has been happening at the last minute. And there has been confusion as to who is reading them. At the recent special town meeting, Reilly said he hadn't heard anything about it and had to craft the motions himself.
"It worked OK when I was 90 percent out of the loop. But my concern is that it is too close to the edge of falling apart," Reilly said.
One example of confusion is the Selectmen were under the impression that Jones didn't want to read the motions. At least one of selectman said he didn't want to read them either. But Jones on Monday said he has no problem reading them and he isn't sure why the Selectmen thought he didn't. Jones said he was surprised to learn that the Selectmen were reading them at the special town meeting.
Sieloff said the attorney will craft the motions in the future and the Finance Committee agreed to continue to have the chairman read the motions.

Tags: MGRHS,   senior citizens,   tax collector,   town meeting warrant,   

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