Derry Board plans for new town assessor Listers chair to retire in 2022; roads crew post still unfilled

By Cherise Madigan
Telegraph Publishing LLC

Employment considerations dominated the election-eve meeting of the Londonderry Select Board on Monday. Following an impassioned recommendation from the chair of Londonderry’s Board of Listers, the Select Board established the part-time position of town assessor pending its approval of a job description and related budget adjustments.

Board of Listers Chair Sandra Clark told the Select Board she will be leaving her post in 2022 and is urging the board to begin finding a qualified assessor soon.

Additionally, town officials pondered how to move forward this winter considering the staffing shortage faced by the Londonderry Highway Department — though they did hire a new Transfer Station employee following an executive session at the end of the meeting, as well as contracted for Town Office cleaning services.

A new position, with a higher cost

Though Board of Listers Chair Sandra Clark has served Londonderry for 21 years, she says the town will soon need to find another qualified assessor to complete the Grand List, the town’s roster of taxable property. Clark plans to step back from her role by Town Meeting 2022, and asked that the board create a part-time position that could attract someone who is qualified, well-versed in state laws and regulations, and capable of creating an accurate Grand List.

Such a position would require approximately 24 hours per week, or three days. For the highly skilled services required, however, that would cost the town approximately $55,000 per year, Clark said, or $27,500 for the second half of 2022. That amounts to $44 per hour.

“This is what it takes to get the job done for the town,” Clark said, “to create your grand list, have it stand up to inspection, and have it correct.”

According to Town Treasurer Tina Labeau, Clark has already budgeted a portion of that cost and the rest could be taken from the Re-Appraisal Fund, though it would need to be repaid by the following year.

Town Clerk Kelly Pajala reminds the board of the importance of the Grand List and those who compile it.

Board Chair George Mora wondered if the decision would be best left to voters, expressing concern about the residents’ response to the expense. Town Administrator Shane O’Keefe agreed that transitioning to an assessor supervised by the listers would be prudent, but noted that the position will be the highest paid employee in the town.

Clark replied, “The townspeople will be very unhappy if they don’t get their education money because we don’t have a secure Grand List,” then added that the field of suitable applicants will not be large.

Town Clerk Kelly Pajala said Clark is “being realistic … about what the cost of getting that done is going to be”  when the listers no longer can rely on Clark’s skills once she departs. She reminded the board that the Grand List brings in tax revenue.

Mora agreed that, with increasing statutory requirements, Londonderry — like many small towns — will not be able to continue operate as it has going into the future.

The board agreed to review job descriptions and salaries for similar positions in other towns ahead of the next meeting, to begin their search. Doing so now, Clark argued, would allow the town to move forward with continuity.

Staffing shortage complicates winter plans

Despite multiple job postings, the Londonderry Highway Department is still short an employee after a member of the road crew resigned a few weeks ago.

Road Foreman Joshua Dryden is one of two members of the road crew going into winter.

While Road Foreman Joshua Dryden said that while he and his remaining crewmember would continue to “get the work done,” winter storms — and their long hours — will be challenging. If one of them becomes sick or is injured on top of that, he added, “we’re in trouble.”

Town officials were hard-pressed to find an immediate solution since interest in the position has been scant. Dryden noted that word about the open position has been getting out, and wondered if any seasonal employees might become available now that the construction season is wrapping up.

“We’re definitely going to do our best to get the job done,” Dryden said. “But instead of taking four hours to plow everything, it might take six.”

The board agreed to “wait and see” if any applications are submitted, and Board member Vincent Annunziata agreed to help with additional postings through mechanisms such as Facebook.

In other news: budgeting, cannabis marketplace, food scraps

The board was also asked by town employees to articulate their priorities for the town’s fiscal 2022 budget, which begins on July 1, 2021. It’s a question complicated by the Covid-19 pandemic and its economic impacts.

The creation of the town assessor position would be an additional cost. Board member Tom Cavanagh also noted that the Transfer Station will be facing “major increases” once its contract with Casella is up next year. O’Keefe said that the town would need to build up its Unassigned Fund Balance as well.

‘Given all the shortfalls and increased needs we’re looking at, level funding simply won’t be an option,’ Select Board Chair George Mora says.

“Given all the shortfalls and increased needs we’re looking at, level funding simply won’t be an option,” Mora admitted. “That said, I would like to minimize increases in the budget as much as possible in light of where our townsfolk are.”

Mora suggested limiting budget increases in the preliminary planning, then working together for more budget cuts. The board also agreed to include articles regarding a local option tax and retail cannabis sales to the 2021 Town Meeting warning. While both were discussed at Londonderry’s 2020 Town Meeting — with the option tax being voted down and the community expressing support for retail cannabis operations — Mora argued that Londonderry would need a local option tax to see revenue from cannabis sales once that market opens up.

Transfer Station Coordinator Esther Fishman also presented the station’s Solid Waste Implementation Plan, discussed by the Weston Select Board last week, which the Londonderry Board ultimately signed off on. The plan has been well received by the Transfer Station’s five member towns (Londonderry, Weston, Peru, Landgrove, and Windham) according to Fishman.

Additionally, Fishman said that the food scrap numbers she reported to the board a few weeks ago — and reported by The Telegraph — were actually not accurate due to issues with the bin sizes recorded as well as the spreadsheet logging food scrap collections. She said that the amount of food collected is “definitely going up,” and estimated that it had actually tripled  — not doubled — from July to September.

 

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About the Author: Journalist and photographer Cherise Madigan specializes in writing about outdoor recreation, the environment and travel. She has roots in Manchester and a history of reporting throughout Southern Vermont. Madigan is a graduate of Nazareth College of Rochester, earning her degree in Political Science summa cum laude in 2015.

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