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Bernardston officials get high marks from DOR

BERNARDSTON — The town has received praise, as well as a list of suggestions, in a recently completed report on Bernardston’s finances.

Though it suggested areas for improvement, the report, prepared by the state Department of Revenue at no cost to town, showed that Bernardston’s town officials and employees are good at keeping the books in order.

They’ve been so good with the books, said the report, that in the last 10 years Bernardston’s budget has grown by much less than those of comparable towns.

From the 2003 to 2013 fiscal years, Bernardston’s budget has grown by 17.4 percent, according to the report. The report said that in the closest comparable town, Sunderland, the budget had grown by 27.4 percent.

Though the budget hasn’t grown as much as in similar towns, Bernardston’s residents have had to bear more and more of it. This fiscal year, 79 percent of the budget came from taxes, compared to 55.6 percent in 2003, due to dwindling state and other outside aid.

The report offered 37 suggestions to improve the way the town handles its money, some of which selectmen feel wouldn’t be feasible in a small town. The DOR placed an emphasis on the first six recommendations, but selectmen had their own ideas.

The DOR suggested the town begin to collect and compile its bylaws, which the report said could take about a year. It would involve volunteers digging into archives of annual and special town meeting votes, to collect the bylaws.

Selectmen thought it was a great idea, and decided Wednesday to form a Bylaws Committee to take up the task. If interested in serving on the committee, contact Administrative Assistant Hugh Campbell at 413-648-5401 or bos@townofbernardston.org.

A less popular suggestion was to change the positions of treasurer, tax collector and town clerk from elected to appointed positions. This would allow the small town to bring in qualified nonresidents to fill the positions, should voters approve.

“The townspeople have said they want residents in those positions,” said Selectman Robert Raymond. “I’ve been on the board for six years, and it’s already been brought to town meeting three or four times.”

Most recently in 2012, residents defeated the measures that would have resulted in ballot questions asking voters to allow each position to be appointed by selectmen.

One suggestion was to change the administrative assistant’s job title to town coordinator. The report said the position’s responsibilities have outgrown its current designation, which gives the appearance that it’s a secretarial job.

Another recommendation would streamline annual town meetings by voting the town’s operating and expense budget as one article, instead of having a separate article for each department’s budget.

Other issues DOR saw as a priority are formalizing the town’s capital improvement program, and adopting a bylaw that would govern the town’s budgeting process.

Lower-priority issues included improving the town website, organizing tax and title records, and coming up with more ways for residents to pay their taxes when the collector is out of the office.

Though 37 suggestions may seem like a lot, it’s relatively few.

“I’ve been told that in similar towns, it’s not uncommon to have a DOR report three times as thick, with more than 80 suggestions,” said Selectman Louis Bordeaux.

David Rainville can be reached at:
drainville@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279

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