In the wake of the Aquinnah board of assessors losing two of its three members, town government is scrambling to fill the vacancies while simultaneously working on wrapping up the 2019 fiscal year tax forms
For years, selectmen have expressed concern with the paid assessor, Angela Cywinski — since the board recently decided to look for outside options, some assessors have been at odds with the town’s top board.
Assessor Marsha Shufrin recently sent a letter of resignation to the board of assessors, saying that she is sorry she could not fulfill her obligation to see her term through to the end.
Shufrin wrote that she has felt extreme stress from the contentious nature of the two boards’ relationship, and is choosing to “extract [herself] from the situation,” before things get worse.
“At this time I find myself in a position where I am unable to defend our employee from dismissal, nor am I able to support the actions of the board of selectmen in their efforts to dismiss her. I cannot continue to serve in a position where I find myself ineffective,” Shufrin wrote. “I believe I have spent more time, in the last year and a half, in efforts to extinguish fires rather than attending to administrative tasks of the board. I know each board will read this letter and continue to point fingers, make accusations based on past history, and treat each other with disrespect.”
Assessor Adam Wilson will also be vacating his position in order to make the move to Oak Bluffs in pursuit of year-round housing.
In March, the concept of outsourcing the paid assessing position in town was considered when the Regional Resource Group, a Leominster assessing firm working in more than 29 Massachusetts communities, pitched its services to the board of selectmen.
Now that selectmen have taken into consideration a bid from the out-of-house assessing firm, both the selectmen and the assessors are looking to fill the vacant seats left by Wilson and Shufrin.
Selectmen said at a weekly meeting Wednesday that multiple people have expressed interest in filling the vacancies, including current assessor Elise LeBovit, who they said would be willing to be reappointed.
But LeBovit said at the weekly board of assessors meeting that she told selectmen she would be willing to remain in her position until a replacement could be found, as part of her sworn duty to the town.
Selectmen also said Kayla Manning expressed interest in serving as an assessor.
Cywinski said at the assessors meeting that there are elements of the transition to outside assessing that are yet to be considered. “When an outside assessing company comes in, they don’t take the oath like I do, they don’t have any skin in the game,” Cywinski said. “When you read the contract, it says they only assist the board.”
Cywinski said she can’t foresee an empty assessors’ office during the peak of the summer season.
“I can foresee the selectmen becoming the assessors, and as chief executive officers, they have their right to do that,” Wilson said.
But Cywinski said selectmen would have to get permission from the Department of Revenue to act as assessors, and would require a special bylaw.
“But selectmen are the chief executive officers of the town, so if a vacancy needs to be filled on a temporary basis, they have that right to fill that, regardless of what the DOR says,” Wilson, Aquinnah’s former town administrator, said.
When replacement assessors are found, Cywinski said, those people have to have their Course 101 (a course on assessment administration, providing an assessor’s certification on completion) finished before November, so they can sign the recap sheet (recapitulation sheet that requests certification of the yearly tax rate).
She explained how a contracted assessor cannot sign recap sheets because they have not taken the oath of office.
In order for the Regional Resource Group to read deeds and chart cartographic tax maps, Cywinski said, the town would have to pay additional fees. “Contractors do not read deeds, they do not do the tax maps; that will cost extra,” Cywinski said.
Wilson said it is obvious that Cywinski thinks there will be additional expenses coming at selectmen as a result of the outsourcing, and suggested creating a sheet with expected costs to warn the town.
“If you could give this to Elise or me on a spreadsheet, we could share it with selectmen so they know what they are up against in terms of bringing in this outsourcing group,” Wilson said.
Aquinnah heads back to special town meeting
Aquinnah will hold another special town meeting on June 17 at 7 pm in the Aquinnah town hall.
Three articles will be on the warrant for the meeting.
The first article is the request of the MVRHS school committee to use $229,730 in excess and deficiency funds to pay for anticipated deficits in heating oil, building maintenance, and transportation.
The second article is to see if the town will raise and appropriate $8,989 to fund upgrades to the Dukes County regional emergency communications center. “That was the shortfall at the annual town meeting, where there was a mixup in the amount that was communicated to us,” town administrator Jeff Madison said.
The third article is to transfer, at the request of the shellfish constable, $10,000 from the waterways improvement fund to build a shellfish constable shed.
“I was really disappointed the high school couldn’t build [the shack] this spring. But shoot, they don’t have to do it if I need it. I figured it wouldn’t be coming out of taxpayers’ pockets if I used the waterways money,” shellfish constable Chip Vanderhoop said.