ARROWSIC

With a population of around 400 or so, Arrowsic has managed to get by with a small, dedicated part-time staff for years.

But a host of factors could change that, and the town is considering the addition of a new position in its office, or adjusting responsibilities and compensation of the handful that work there.

“We’re a small town, and the positions in the town office, the town clerk, the tax collector, the selectboard … they’re really critical functions for the town, and we’ve been very lucky to have a lot of volunteers step up for lots of different jobs in town,” said Selectman Bill Savedoff.

It’s not clear, however, that individuals will continue to step up to fill these positions, especially as they become more demanding and time-consuming.

“We’ve been lucky to find somebody every time someone leaves for whatever reasons. But it feels a little bit on edge,” said Savedoff. “I’ve been through two town clerks leaving in the five or six years I’ve been on the selectboard, and each time it’s been kind of like: Are we going to find someone who will do it?”

The town’s tax collector will be stepping down at the end of the year. With a salary of less than $5,000, Savedoff said the board is not sure they’ll be able to find someone who will take on the demanding position.

“It is a paid position, but it’s paid at a rate that it’s basically a quasi-volunteer position,” said Savedoff. “You’re asking people to step up more out of a sense of civic responsibility and helping out in the community than as a professional or regular job.”

That arrangement may have worked for a small community like Arrowsic in the past, but new requirements from the state have made it far less sustainable.

“A lot of the demands on what we’re doing now is because of the state’s changes in how they’re doing car registrations or property taxes,” said Savedoff. “They expect us to be able to interact with them online.”

The cost of moving services online is squarely on the town’s shoulders. The software that the state requires for filing car registrations, which used to be done by hand and sent to the state, costs $4,000, with another $1,000 in maintenance. According to Savedoff, that’s almost one-third of what the administrative budget used to be.

Even the simple act of connecting to the internet is expensive — the town has to dole out money for security, so that residents’ sensitive data can be kept safe.

Not only is the whole endeavor expensive, but it requires the staff to have computer skills, or to take the time to be trained.

Perhaps those increased demands could have been worth it if the town had received money from the state to compensate them, but in reality the state has cut funding through municipal revenue sharing.

“Back in 2002, we got something on the order of $100,000 in revenue sharing from the state, and these days we get $10,000,” said Savedoff. “As we’re trying to deal with these fixed costs of municipal government, we’re trying to do that now entirely on the property tax.

“The fixed costs and fixed demands of running a municipal office are increasing without the corresponding resources that we need,” he added.

Last week, the town conducted its first meeting to discuss the changing needs of the town, and how that should be reflected in the town’s administration.

“One thought was that there are a bunch of things that are more routine or administrative tasks that the selectboard is doing, or the tax collector or town clerk sort of gradually started doing that aren’t a core part of those job functions,” said Savedoff. “And we might split those out and create a new administrative position that we could hire for that.

“Or (we could) formally put those into the job descriptions of these other positions and then compensate them accordingly,” he added.

In researching towns around Arrowsic and those similar in size, Savedoff said he found that Arrowsic spends far less than average on municipal administration.

“What we found is that our overall wage bill is well below other towns,” he said. “Our wage bill is somewhere around $40,000 a year, and other towns, even small towns like Alna, are more like $70,000 a year.”

Selectmen will continue to gather input in the coming weeks, and Savedoff expects to have a more formal proposal to present at a meeting early next year. From there, he hopes to continue the discussion and put something on the warrant for Arrowsic’s annual town meeting in June.

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