Questions over Greenfield assessor’s office future loom after budget vote

  • The Greenfield Town Hall Recorder File Photo/Paul Franz

Staff Writer
Published: 5/28/2019 11:08:56 PM

GREENFIELD — City officials are in disagreement over the future of the assessor’s office following the roughly $100,000 cut by the council last week, opening up a series of financial questions that could lead to future funding issues.

“I’m concerned with the fact that the speed of government at the council level will not allow us to deal with this in the proper manner,” said Greenfield Precinct 8 City Councilor Otis Wheeler, who is chair of the Ways and Means Committee that works with the budget.

When the City Council approved a $51.3 million budget that moved around nearly $700,000 from city departments to the Greenfield Public Schools, the assessor’s office took a $104,000 cut.

“We had to choose between laying off teachers now or waiting to fully fund a private contractor,” City Council President Karen “Rudy” Renaud said. “So the council chose to support our teachers. This does not mean the assessor’s office will not get the money it needs in a supplemental. For now we made a decision to not put the schools in a horrible situation.”

The slash in the department effectively ends its contract with a private assessor’s company.

Regional Resource Group (RRG) is scheduled to now stop its work for the city by July after one year on the job.

The assessor’s office is down to one employee, Kim Mew, who is running the department but is not a fully trained assessor.

The department did have one clerical person up until recent weeks. But that unionized city employee transferred from her part-time work in the assessor’s office to a full-time job in the Greenfield Health Department. The health department lost its clerical employee following two years of turnover and turmoil that has now led to a complete overhaul.

“I’m hoping we don’t lose everybody because that’s what happened with the Health Department,” Mayor William Martin said Tuesday.

Worst case scenario with the assessor’s office, as seen by Martin: tax bills may not go out; no one will be able to represent the city in tax appellate court; and the city will not be able to certify free cash, handcuffing its ability to pay the departments the City Council just cut so it could better fund the public schools.

“We have a structural deficit,” Martin said. “We have spent money we don’t have yet.”

At-Large Councilor Isaac Mass, who like Martin is in his final six months of public office, agreed that the city may have a structural deficit but said it should be made up by incoming state aid. Mass sees deficit at a few hundred thousand dollars.

Mass does not agree with Martin that the city could be without the services of its assessor’s office, and if it does, that would be a political decision by the mayor’s office.

Mass said the mayor still has $30,000 at his discretion to pay for a commercial reevaluation of property in the city through the assessor’s office. The money came out of the debate over a split-tax rate.

The assessor’s office has been the focus of a conversation between the council and the mayor’s office after its longtime assessor Lester Reed was not retained. Mass says he was fired by the mayor.

Since then, Mass says Martin has been trying to privatize the department, which the mayor denies as accurate.

Mass said he wanted the $104,000 cut from the assessor’s office so the city would reconsider its policy and go back to hiring a full-time, in-house assessor.

“None of this is about the council’s unwillingness to support the assessor’s office. This is about the council wanting a policy change,” Mass said. “Either the mayor will create a crisis because he refuses to accept a change in policy and let it get bad to force the councilors to cave, which is what happened with the health department, or, he will send a compromise proposal.”

If the mayor proposes $50,000 to the assessor’s office for the remaining six months of the calendar year after RRG’s contract expires on the condition the city will go back to hiring a full-time employee, Mass said he would vote for it.

“The right thing to do is a compromise,” Mass said.

Wheeler said he is open to the compromise but remains “a little bit anxious” about the future of the department.

“I’m still not sure it’s the best way to go about restructuring the department, but I’m open to that compromise,” Wheeler said.

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