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Amherst gets grant to assist Pelham with assessing services

Gov. Deval Patrick’s office announced Tuesday that Amherst would receive $35,000 from the Community Innovation Challenge Grant program, part of $2.25 million given to 27 recipients spanning 162 communities.

Finance Director Sanford “Sandy” Pooler, who was in Boston to receive the award, said the grant is a way to “turbocharge” the assessing function in Amherst and Pelham.

“What the grant does is allows us and Pelham to purchase computers to set up kiosk in Pelham Town Hall and to scan 50 years of records,” Pooler said.

Musante said property valuations, setting the tax rate and other duties associated with an assessing office will be handled for Pelham by Amherst staff.

Pelham’s Board of Assessors will still be responsible for making recommendations related to the tax rate and exemptions.

The state grant program is designed to support regionalization efforts across the state and to maintain delivery of service at lower cost to taxpayers.

Lt. Gov. Timothy Murray said in a statement that because of the success in last year’s round of grants, the administration wanted to give more chances for innovations.

“We’re excited to continue this program with the second round of award recipients who have all proposed more innovative opportunities and cost-saving measures to collaborate, regionalize and maintain valuable local services.”

The three-year intermunicipal agreement extends through June 30, 2015, Musante said. It calls for Pelham to pay a pro-rated $13,300 this year, with $20,000 payments each of the final two years.

The Amherst office is staffed by principal assessor David Burgess and administrative assistants Lori Turati and Theresa Bouthilette-Sarna. Musante described all three as accomplished professionals.

“The grant is icing on the cake. This is recognition for the future,” Musante said.

For Burgess, handling assessing for Pelham will be a return to a similar contracted relationship the towns had in the 1990s.

The work will begin by scanning Pelham’s property cards into Amherst’s Geographic Information Systems database. While there will be some additional costs to update this database, Burgess doesn’t expect it be complicated. Pelham’s 1,100 parcels are almost entirely residential, he said, unlike the 7,000 parcels in Amherst that are a mix of residential and commercial.

“We don’t see this as a burden,” Burgess said. “A lot of the information will already be on computers.”

Burgess said he expects Pelham residents to benefit from the arrangement. Amherst might continue the current practice of being open for business in Pelham one day a week, or the office could be staffed for two half days. Burgess said Pelham residents can also come to Amherst Town Hall during the 37½ hours it is open each week. “We’ll be able to deal with people anytime we’re open,” Burgess said.

Those who need records and information won’t have to wait as long. “Appraisers and banks will be able to get information immediately,” Burgess said.

The online database will also be accessible to residents all the time.

Resuming the relationship between the towns became more viable as the state put them on the same cycles for revaluation. The triennial revaluation is time consuming and it may have proved impractical to provide the service if Amherst’s staff was spending two of every three years at it.

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