SHIRLEY — A finance team consisting of several department heads, including Tax Collector Holly Haase, Treasurer Kevin Johnston, Town Accountant Bobbi Jo Colburn, Principal Assessor Becky Caldbeck and others has been talking to officials from Fidelity Bank about a partnership that would change the collection process for tax bills and other services people pay for in Shirley.
Starting with property taxes and fees paid to the town clerk and eventually moving up to include permits and other municipal payments made at “remote locations” in town, the group proposes to revamp the town’s business practices.
At the Board of Selectmen’s meeting last week, Haase and Johnston said the call for change comes now because business practices “outside town government” have changed and it’s time for the town to get in synch, or at least start moving in that direction.
“We’re fairly fast,” Haase said, but the collections process “could be a whole lot better and even more efficient.”
She wasn’t just talking about taxes, but that’s where the makeover would start.
From taxes and sewer bills to burn permits and recreation fees, including admission to Benjamin Hill Pool, the makeover might be all-inclusive when all is said and done. But the crux of the issue now, according to collection-process change proponents, is that the town is behind the times when it comes to credit cards and electronic transactions.
Stated in a printed proposal, the argument is this: “The way people do business is changing and we need to change with them.”
It goes on to say that taxpayers are requesting debit/credit card payment over the counter, an option that is not available now. People can pay online, but there’s a charge, which turns people off to paying by credit card, Haase said.
“We need to change that,” she said.
In its recommendation to selectmen, the Finance Team said “forming a partnership with Fidelity Bank is the best option for town of Shirley” for the following reasons:
* Fidelity (the local branch is the former Shirley Cooperative Savings Bank) is the town’s primary bank.
* Fidelity is a local business, familiar to taxpayers.
* The lock box (where cash payments and checks are deposited) stays in town.
* The bank has agreed to partner with the town to expand customer services.
* The partnership includes a marketing campaign that includes a computer terminal at the bank where customers can make payments (to the town) whenever the bank is open, including Saturday mornings, plus a “green initiative.”
The first goal would be to set the lock-box service up for biannual real-estate and personal property-tax bills going out at the end of the year and due in February and May 2011, as well as motor-vehicle and trailer excise-tax bills and sewer use fees sent later. The team is currently working with the bank to gather information to make it happen.
Selectman Andy Deveau was all for it, based on his personal transactions with the bank for more than 30 years and the contents of the packet it submitted. In his view, the proposal offers convenience to citizens and a streamlined process for the town.
Selectmen Chairman Kendra Dumont liked the proposal, too.
“This is how people live now,” she said, paying bills by credit card. “I am in favor of bringing this proposal to Town Meeting.”
Selectman David Swain had reservations. He was concerned, he said, about “remote-access” issues. He also asked about the software gap between the tax offices and the Sewer Commission.
“We’re working on that,” Haase said.
Swain also iterated the need to bring the proposal before residents. Thus, the discussion pointed up the need for setting a Special Town Meeting date.
The STM promises to be short and to the point, with only a handful of articles on the warrant, including this one. The board agreed to Monday, Dec. 13, in the Town Offices main meeting room at 7 p.m. The date is contingent on the availability of Town Moderator George Knittel or his designated alternate, Paul Przybyla.