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New clerk wants to bring Bernardston into 21st century

Says tiny, cluttered Town Hall office needs renovation

BERNARDSTON — The newly elected town clerk wants to get his house in order, and was willing to take a pay cut to do so.

Paul Luther, elected April 30, came before the Board of Selectmen to ask that his salary be lowered from the $14,200 in the proposed fiscal year 2014 budget to $12,000.

The $2,200 difference, he said, could be better spent renovating the tiny, cluttered Town Hall office he shares with the Planning Board.

“I can’t imagine the space in that office being used less efficiently,” said Luther.

The board denied his request, but not for lack of need.

The town had put off salary increases for the town clerk, treasurer, and tax collector for three years, said Selectman Robert Raymond, and the board would rather get all three raises approved at Wednesday’s annual town meeting than ask for a partial increase this year and the rest next. Previous Town Clerk Judy Knight had been making $10,400 per year, plus fees received. Due to changes in the fee structure, the town clerk is among positions that will be paid a flat rate, without receiving fees.

Though they were against the pay cut, board members agreed unanimously that it’s time to remodel the little office. Instead of taking the needed money out of the town clerk’s salary, they said, it could come out of a fund designated for repairs and renovations to town buildings.

Luther wants to rip out the office’s bulky cupboards, get rid of a gargantuan safe with more iron to it than storage space, and start getting town records organized and computerized.

To do it, though, he needs room to lay out and sort the boxes and folders of documentation.

“You need a lot of space just to sort out one fully packed filing cabinet,” said Luther.

He’s got more than that to go through, between the little office’s safe, cupboards and closets, and older files stored in the library.

Organizing and processing that backlog will be a lot of work, said Luther, but once done, it will be easy to keep it current.

Luther also asked that he be granted off-site access to his town email account, so he may work from home outside of office hours, and that an inexpensive laptop computer be provided so he won’t have to do town business on his home computer. It would also provide a valuable backup of town documents, he said, in case anything should happen to the hard copies or Town Hall computer.

Computerized records could provide easier access for residents and other interested parties. Luther said minutes of board and committee meetings could easily be posted online if they get to him in electronic, rather than paper, form. It would also allow him to compile documents used at the meetings, and attach them to the appropriate sets of minutes, a requirement of the state.

Luther also suggested a tweak to town meeting. While attending Northfield’s annual town meeting, Luther noticed that ballot votes go much quicker than they do in Bernardston. This is because Northfield voters are given a colored paper bracelet as they check into the meeting, along with a blank ballot. When they drop off their filled-out ballots, they simply show their wristband to verify that they’re legitimate voters. In Bernardston, each voter must check out with election workers when dropping ballots off, a time-consuming process that Luther suggested be replaced.

He noted another difference, where he feels Bernardston has the better method.

“In Northfield, in 30 seconds, they passed a $7 million omnibus budget without debate,” said Luther. He was particularly concerned that Northfield passed its $3.76 million share of the Pioneer Valley Regional School District budget, up 4 percent from this year’s, as part of the omnibus budget, without a single question.

In Bernardston, every line item in the proposed budget is read aloud, so that voters may ask questions or raise concerns about each expenditure.

Luther feels that, though it may take more time, Bernardston’s method allows for more discussion.

“If you have each line (of the budget) read, it encourages people to talk about them,” he said.

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