GROTON -- As the summer season winds down, the Board of Selectmen met Aug. 26 to conduct a number of housekeeping chores involving adjustments to the town's fiscal 2014 operating budget.
First up was the outstanding question of a Senior Work Off Program offered by the town to seniors in need of help to pay ever-rising property taxes.
Currently, the program includes 38 local seniors who work a few hours a week around Town Hall to earn $500 off their property taxes.
IRS to take $50 from $500 payment
The problem for them as well as the town is that a recent rule change by the federal Internal Revenue Service places an income tax on the $500 resulting in a reduction of $50 directly impacting a senior's tax savings.
In addition, the seniors currently enrolled in the program (which has them working at town offices filing records and stuffing envelopes) will now need to be handled as wage earning employees instead of volunteers with all of the red tape that goes with it.
News of the rule change came last February with town accountant Patricia Dufresne tasked by selectmen to study the situation and come up with a solution that will allow the program to continue to serve as many seniors as possible while preserving its benefits.
Dufresne returned with the suggestion that the number of available slots for seniors qualifying for the program be reduced from 40 to 30 with a commensurate increase in the amount of their abatement from $500 to $700.
Concerned about the financial cost to the town as well as expressing sympathy for the plight of deserving seniors, selectmen voted unanimously to increase the abatement as suggested while reducing the number of available slots from 40 to 30.
Selectmen, however, reserved the right to increase the number of slots in the future should more qualifying seniors apply.
In order to have $700 shaved off their property taxes, seniors who volunteer for the work off program need to be at least 60 years old and earn no more than $65,000 a year for singles and $74,320 for couples.
Application forms for 2014 will be available Oct. 1.
Employee increase in hours tabled
The selectmen put off a decision to increase the hours of one of two part-time employees in the Town Clerk's Office from 19 to 20. According to town manager Mark Haddad, the situation was "unfair" adding that it was "not right" that one part-timer should have 20 hours and all the benefits that go with them while the other is stuck at 19 hours, just below the threshold when benefits kick in. But board member Joshua Degen reminded him that when the second position was created six years before, the person who took the job took it knowing that it was only 19 hours and came with no benefits. "That said, I do not support (the increase)." Other selectmen however, were in favor of it including Anna Eliot and Stuart Schulman (who participated in the meeting remotely). With the board split on the issue, Chairman Peter Cunningham suggested that they wait for a future meeting to hear more details from Town Clerk Michael Bouchard before coming to a decision.
* Were informed by Haddad that due to the pending conclusion to negotiations with the Fire Department union employees, there will be a need to transfer an undetermined amount of cash from reserves to cover an expected increase in wages that will be retroactive to July 1.
* Learned that there will be a need to transfer $3,000 from reserves to bolster the budget dedicated for use by the senior van. Operating hours for the van have been doubled and the extra money will be needed to cover increasing gas prices.
* Learned that in a similar situation to that of the Town Hall employees, the hours of a young adult position at the library would be increased from 19 to 20 if approved by voters at town meeting. The change would be made so that the position comes into line with other library employees doing the same amount of work.
* Were asked to support the transfer of $15,000 from reserves to fund various safety issues involved with a planned reopening of Sargisson Beach next year.
The total amount of transfers from the reserve fund for these and other expenditures, said Haddad, would come to $236,000.
Before selectmen take positions on the various requests, however, concerned residents will have the opportunity to weigh in on the issues at a number of public hearings.
Final approval for the transfers will come from voters at fall town meeting.