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North County Communities Losing Shared HR Services Employee
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
05:14AM / Thursday, March 14, 2024
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Three North County communities are set to lose their human resources officer before the month is out.
At Monday's meeting of the Williamstown Select Board, Town Manager Robert Menicocci reported that the HR person the town shares with Adams and North Adams has given her notice. And no immediate plan was announced to fill the office.
In fact, Menicocci indicated that the current model, while beneficial to the three municipalities, is unsustainable.
"We're grateful for what our individual, Cara [Farrell] did for the period of time she was with us," Menicocci said. "But her feedback will probably be that three [municipalities] is too much.
"The human resources, personnel world only gets more complex. … Employers, whoever they are, need to make sure they are effective in administering their personnel. We have to have a heart-to-heart about whether we do it on our own or, at most, share it with another community."
The three communities received a one-time $100,000 grant from the commonwealth in 2022 to fund a shared services position. After the first year of the arrangement, Adams, North Adams and Williamstown were responsible for funding the position proportionately.
In the current fiscal year that ends on June 30, Williamstown's share amounts to $23,500.
Menicocci noted on Monday that the FY25 draft budget does include a sum for the shared services position ($24,205), but that could change.
"If we were to need to go up to a full position, we'd need to add the other two-thirds [of a budget for compensation]," he said. "There's some opportunity to act quickly and at least have a conversation about adding that in."
Menicocci also used Monday's Select Board meeting to inform the panel that the town's informational technology specialist is leaving the town's service to return to the education field. His departure comes as the town is working to revamp its website, among other efforts to increase the town's communication with the public.
The town manager also used the platform at the biweekly meeting to inform residents that electric utilities are in the process of seeking rate increases that will allow the companies to add the capacity that towns like Williamstown need to address climate change.
"The utilities are required to give the state plans on how they're going to achieve [capacity]," Menicocci said. "What this allows them to do is update their rates, which is not a great consumer thing because it means we all fund the utility getting up to speed on improving their infrastructures.
"If the rates get approved, there is probably a 10-year horizon on getting those things in place so the grid is near the point we would want to support solar initiatives, solar farms … and just our ability to draw more electricity if we're switching over from fossil fuels, things like that."
Menicocci said the state's Department of Public Utilities is holding a series of public hearings on the rate hike proposal but also is accepting written comments from the public. According to the state agency's website, the only in-person hearing currently scheduled locally is at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington on April 9 at 7 p.m.
The main topic of discussion at Monday's Select Board meeting was, for the third straight session, a request by residents that the board adopt a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.
In other business at Monday's meeting, the board:
Appointed Eunice Marigliano to the Zoning Board of Appeals.
• Learned that the board's survey of short-term rental operators in town has elicited about 30 responses from the nearly 150 surveys that were sent to registered operators of Airbnbs.
 Accepted a $50,000 grant from the National Fitness Campaign to support a fitness court off Stetson Road. Menicocci said the town is still seeking other sources of grants to firm up funding for the project.
• Discussed asking Menicocci to establish a parks and recreation committee for the town to take over one of the roles currently filled by the Select Board.
• And received an update from its Charter Review Committee, which plans to bring five articles to town meeting. Three of the articles will be home-rule petitions that will require an act of the legislature to actually amend the charter. Two will be bylaw amendments, Andrew Hogeland told his colleagues.
Hogeland also told the board that a pending change in Boston will add a complication to one of the property tax proposals the board has spent the last year developing for May's annual town meeting.
The board long has aimed to establish a means-tested senior property tax exemption, among other changes to local property tax policy.
Currently, Hogeland said, there are several versions of a bill on Beacon Hill that would create a local option for municipalities to do just that. If a version of the local option bill passes the Legislature before town meeting, the town could accomplish the same end without a "home rule petition" that would require a separate act of the Legislature.
The solution, for now, is to include a proposed State House version of a senior property tax exemption in the annual town meeting warrant, Hogeland said. That way, if it is passed on Beacon Hill between the publication of the warrant and the May 21 annual town meeting, the meeting can vote on the local option instead.
"[Town counsel] basically said you should be advising town meeting you may be switching to something else [instead of a home rule petition]," Hogeland said. "But right now, we don't know what 'something else' is."
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