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Erving residents keep fee authority

ERVING — Residents at Monday’s special town meeting opted to keep the authority to set fees in the hands of voters, rejecting an article 10-5 on the strength of objections to abdicating a democratic responsibility and the fee increases that might result.

Prompted by a provision of a new state law requiring that municipalities charge the same registration fee for dogs regardless of the animal’s gender, the article asked voters to hand over authority for fee decisions to the relevant town boards or officers.

Town Clerk Richard Newton, who submitted the article, said this would have made the Board of Selectmen responsible for setting the rates of all fees in town, rather than holding a town meeting when required.

Fees affected would eventually have included those for birth, death and marriage certificates and business permits, certificates and licenses, according to Newton.

The immediate impact would have been to the dog registration fees, on the agenda for the Board of Selectmen’s meeting to be resumed immediately following the town meeting.

The current dog registration fees are $6 for un-spayed females, $3 for all other dogs.

Newton said he had recommended an increase to $10 for spayed or neutered dogs and $15 for intact animals, eliminating the gender disparity and bumping the fees to meet town costs — for employee time, tags and printing — and provide a buffer for the next couple of years.

The article up for approval, with language changes recommended by the town lawyer and accepted as the motion by voters, would have allowed “municipal boards or officers empowered to issue licenses, permits or certificates or to render a service or perform work for a person or class of persons from time to time to fix reasonable fees.”

Daniel Hammock, a member of the Finance Committee, objected that the Board of Selectmen was not specifically designated in the article. “And it brings in this real gray area of ‘reasonable,’” he added.

Hammock said voters should be allowed to continue setting the fees, and said the proposed increase in the dog fee might be counterproductive.

Hammock said the purpose is to keep a record of dogs with their rabies vaccine, sparing humans bitten by registered dogs the need for precautionary rabies shots, and allowing dogs to avoid rabies quarantine if bitten by obliging their owners to vaccinate them.

Selectman Andrew Goodwin said money collected in fees doesn’t go back to the department involved to offset costs, and only the hard costs involved, such as the tags, should be considered in setting the fees.

Deb Smith, of High Street, said as a multiple dog owner she was looking at an increase from $12 to $50 for annual registration, a jump she said might discourage some from registering.

Resident Sarah Vega-Liros said having the right to vote on such decisions is one of the privileges of living in a small town, and she didn’t want to give up that right.

“I’m actually in favor of this article ... because as we found tonight it’s hard to find a quorum for a special town meeting,” said assistant assessor Jacquelyn Boyden.

Newton said if the motion were rejected the existing system would remain, but the town will not be in compliance with the state law after Jan. 1.

Most discounted the looming state deadline.

“I have to believe that the consequence of us not doing this now is something less than hard time in a penitentiary,” Hammock said.

Following the meeting, the selectmen decided to hold a special town meeting Jan. 28 to set the dog fees, and Newton said he won’t sell any in the meantime.

Also on the agenda and unanimously approved:

∎  An article allowing the town to mail property tax bills and water bills in the same envelope, a postage savings.

∎  A transfer of $4,800 between tax overlay accounts to address a change to a past tax assessment as a result of a court victory challenging old pole taxes.

∎  Two articles would rescinding a bookkeeping article stating the salaries of the treasurer, tax collector and town clerk approved at the June special town meeting and replacing it with a re-worded version.

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