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Cheshire Continues Discussion on Tax Work-Off Program

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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CHESHIRE, Mass. — The Selectmen continued their discussion on the senior/veteran tax work-off program and may decrease the income threshold.
The board members spent time during their workshop meeting Tuesday generating questions and concerns about the program that town meeting approved last year to help these certain members of the community reduce their property tax burden.
"Once we solidify a couple of these details I think we can start to craft actual language," Chairwoman Michelle Francesconi said.
The program, which has been adopted by other Berkshire County municipalities, allows eligible seniors to work or complete tasks for their community. Instead of receiving payment, an earned amount is subtracted from their taxes.
The Selectmen realized they could not simply offer the program as is with the age limits and income thresholds. As it stands, more than 24 percent of the town's population would be eligible for the program, or 773 people.
"Obviously, we have to narrow down the criteria of it and make it accessible for people who really really need the help," Francesconi said. "And there are people who really need that help." 
Currently, the age cut-off is 60 years old and the income threshold is 400 percent of the federal poverty level. This means a single household income threshold would be $51,520 and a married household threshold would be $69,000.
"Those numbers for mine and the accountant's take are too high to meet the needs of the people who need the help the most," Francesconi said.
The easiest metric to change would be the income eligibility, and Francesconi said she had looked at incremental percentage shifts.
Selectman Mark Biagini said he had reached out to surrounding towns that also offer the program and noted the majority use a shift between 200 and 250 percent.
"If we can get more people that actually need it we should," he said. "That is who this is for."
He also added that he thought there was a lack of transparency in the actual warrant article and wanted to make sure that the Selectman made these corrections.
"I think whatever we do we need to it right so we don't have to go back and fix it," he said.  
Interim Town Administrator Mark Webber told the board members that they also have to consider some of the logistical details and really find out where there is a need among departments.
"I think you need to survey the departments and identify your needs," he said. "That is kind of the first step. You have to establish the need, is there a need, what is that need and how many jobs will that be."
Biagini added that the town would have to make sure individuals can do these jobs. He felt, depending on the task, some applicants may need certain qualifications. He also wanted to be sure health conditions were considered. He used the example that someone with a heart condition should not be shoveling snow.
Webber added that someone would have to oversee the program. Also, the town may want to cap how many positions are available. He said the program also needs to be accounted for in the budget.
Francesconi said they would also have to figure out the selection process.
"It has to be fair and not just friends of friends," she said. "No favoritism. We have to have an independent review of applications."  
Francesconi said the program couldn't be implemented immediately and likely would come into play next fiscal year. She noted applications would probably be accepted in February with selections made in March.
The Selectmen agreed to send any lingering questions to Webber and also requested he develop different income threshold options.
Selectman Jason Levesque asked that the item stays on the agenda.
"I think we need to stay on this," he said. "Town meeting voted on this, and I think they are expecting to see something."

Tags: property taxes,   

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Increased COVID-19 Cases Cause Adams to Slip Back Into Red

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
ADAMS, Mass.— Board of Health Chairman David Rhoads is urging residents to stay vigilant as Adams slips into the red level designation for COVID-19.
"It is always disheartening to convey bad news, but we are in the red here in Adams," Rhoads said at the Selectmen's meeting Wednesday. "We are definitely in a surge."
Rhoads said the town has been reporting a new case every day for the past three weeks.
Rhoads spoke directly to residents over livestreamed meeting and asked them to continue adhering to hygiene and social distancing guidelines to stop the spread, especially now that more aggressive variants have touched down in Berkshire County.
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