MRPC rep touts grant benefits for low income residents

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SHIRLEY — Selectmen at a recent meeting held a public hearing on the town’s pending application for Community Development Block Grant funding, which would likely be filed jointly with the town of Lancaster.

If the “highly competitive” grant were awarded, the typical split would be 50/50 between the two towns, said John Hume, of the Montachusett Regional Planning Commission.

MRPC administers the federal CDBG program and assists participating communities in the application process, which Hume explained in some detail. The filing deadline is in February.

Eligible projects include housing rehabilitation such as roof repairs or furnace replacements for low to moderate-income homeowners. Project criteria also include revitalization of “slum or blighted” areas, Hume said.

He also pointed out that the CDBG program could be of great benefit to elderly homeowners who qualify and that it also includes fuel assistance.

Among other items on the application to-do list, essential components include a CDS or Community Development Strategy and naming a “target” area that needs improvement and where at least half the funds, in this case about $500,000, would be used.

Described as “basically a seven-page document that identifies community priorities” over the next three to five years, the CDS draws key information from other town documents such as the Master Plan and Open Space and Recreation Plan, Hume said.

The town’s existing CDS is currently being updated, Town Administrator Patrice Garvin said. But the area the CDBG application would likely focus on has been identified. Assigned a block number – 388200-3 – it is shown on a map as mostly consisting of Shirley Village, using CDBG criteria and based on 2010 census data.

The board set a date later in the week for a public forum to gain more input from town residents, another application requirement.

Part-time assistant treasurer sought

Selectmen discussed the successful completion of a recent cash audit engendered by changes and subsequent restructuring in the treasurer’s office. “All items were reconciled,” Garvin told the board.

It was his understanding that final numbers tallied but some procedures were at issue, Chairman David Swain said.

Town Accountant Bobbi Jo Colburn, who worked with the auditor, said that was basically the sum of it and that procedural items in question were “all set now.”

Selectman Robert Prescott thanked Colburn for her efforts. “Now we can move forward,” he concluded.

According to Town Administrator Patrice Garvin, the next step is to add a part-timer to assist in the financial offices as the restructuring process continues.

It began when former longtime treasurer Kevin Johnston left last summer and the assistant treasurer, Janet Poitras, was appointed as an interim replacement.

Poitras was somewhat “green” then and when the audit process showed areas to be improved in the way the office functioned, the added work delayed her “moving into the new job,” Garvin said.

The upshot is that the offices need some help, Garvin said.

A major part of the restructuring phase is still pending, The Treasurer and Tax Collector’s offices will incorporate after the current collector’s elected term is up and the position segues to an appointed one,

Now, with money left in the Assistant Treasurer line item to pay for it, Garvin suggested advertising for a part time Assistant Treasurer to fill the position on a temporary basis.

Selectmen authorized her to do so.

But Swain raised a concern. The tax collector’s office also needs help, he said. Absent the part-time assistant whose position was summarily eliminated earlier this year, that office is now operated solely by Town Collector Holly Haase.

Garvin’s response was that the department heads could job share if they want to. “We’re asking for 16 hours a week,” for the part-time position, she said. “How they (financial offices) divide up the work is up to them.”

Haase asked that “all of us,” in those offices be involved in the interview process.

Garvin agreed. “That’s my general practice,” she said.