Saturday May 12, 2012

DALTON -- Thirteen seats for town offices are up for grabs in the annual town election but only one -- the position of town clerk -- is contested.

The polls are open Monday, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., at The Dalton Com munity Recreation Association.

In addition, voters also will consider a ballot question, which asks for an exemption from the Proposition 21Ž2 tax levy limit to borrow money for capital improvements.

Aside from this, the greatest challenge for Dalton voters to consider during this year’s election is who they want for town clerk. John F. Pitha, 59, of 285 East Housatonic St., is challenging Barbara L. Suriner, 69, of 64 East St., for the three-year term.

Suriner has been town clerk for 26 years.

Pitha has lived in town for 29 years, but has never run for office.

"I am brand new to public service," Pitha said.

Pitha was educated in Lenox Public Schools and Berkshire Community College, but holds no degree. He lives in Dalton with his wife, Nancy Warren-Pitha. He has two adult children, Joseph and Hilary, who graduated from Dalton schools.

Pitha told The Eagle that he’s currently unemployed but has a job waiting for him in the private sector, should he not win Monday’s election. Pitha said he has previous experience in database management and keeping inventories. He said his goal is to serve in the town clerk’s office for two terms.

"It’s important to occasionally till the garden.


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Change is a useful tool, which offers fresh eyes and enthusiasm, and can provide improvement to the town," he said.

Suriner is a longtime resident and town employee. Prior to working as town clerk, she spent nine years as a certified assessor for the town and a year before that as an assistant assessor. She has previously worked for the Dalton Fire District. Suriner is also a notary public.

Suriner earned a certificate from Salve Regina College in Newport, R.I., in 1990, after completing a three-year program with the New England Municipal Clerks’ Institute; she earned a certificate as a Massachusetts Accredited Assessor from the Massachusetts Association of Assessing Officers in 1982. She has also taken more than 90 courses relative to her work, both mandatory and optional, from the Massachusetts Town Clerks Association, between 1987 and 2011.

She is married to Bruce L. Suriner. Together, they have four daughters, Sheri Waninger, Audrey Ferguson, Joanna Suriner, and Rebecca Sbacchi. They also have five grandchildren.

"I love this job. I love the people. The town has made a major educational investment in me, and there’s no substitute for the experience. I’m grateful that people have supported and elected me over all these years," Suriner said.

Under state law, town clerks have the opportunity to keep a percentage of fees the office is in charge of collecting, as determined by the town’s respective compensation plan, as part of their income. The fees come from processing various items like dog and marriage licenses.

Pitha said that, if elected, he would collect only a salary and return the clerk’s fees to the town’s general fund.

On Monday, Dalton voted on a salary of $36,931 for the town clerk for the coming fiscal year.

"It varies town to town for clerks elected to office. But there are fewer and fewer towns that have clerks actually keep the fees," said Donna Hooper, association president of the Massachusetts division of the New England Association of City and Town Clerks.

But the matter, in Pitha’s case, isn’t as simple as declining the fee income. The town would have to vote to change the compensation plan.

For example, until a town vote at Monday’s annual town meeting, the Dalton tax collector also kept a certain portion of fees.

The town voted to return those fees to the town’s general fund, but as a result, the collector will also be given increases in pay and pension assessment to make up the difference.

In the case of the tax collector, though the town would initially gain approximately $16,000 in income from fees, it would also compensate about $12,030 as wages and a pension assessment increase of approximately $1,800 in fiscal 2013.

The uncontested offices are as follows: Incumbent Louisa M. Horth for a three-year Select Board term; incumbent Ronald J. Marcella Sr. for a year-long term as moderator; incumbent Zack R. McCain III for a five-year Planning Board term; incumbents Judith L. Douville, Mark S. Rancourt and Joan M. Roy, each for a three-year term as a library trustee; incumbent Thomas J. Callahan Jr. for a five-year term on the Dalton Housing Authority; newcomer Eric Jacobson for a two-year term on the Dalton Housing Authority. Running for three available three-year terms on the town finance committee is incumbent Domenico Suppappola and newcomers John W. Bartels Jr. and Nicholas E. Kirchner Jr.

There is a spot open for a three-year term cemetery trustee, but no candidate is running for this office.