This is file #41. I am interviewing Jean Franson Bell who is the current Tax Collector. The interview is taking place at the Scoville Memorial Library. That date is March 12, 2013. This is Jean McMillen.
JM:What is your full name?
JB:Jean Franson Bell
JM:Where were you born?
JB:In Middletown, Ct.
JB:May 24, 1957
JM:May I have your parents’ names?
JB:Evelyn and Raymond Franson
JM:Do you have siblings?
JB:Yes, I have one brother Kenneth.
JM:What is your educational background?
JB:Salisbury Central School, Housatonic Valley Regional for high school, and, Berkley Secretarial College.
JM:Where is Berkley, Please?
JB:Berkley is located in White Plains, New York.
JM:How did you happen to move to this area?
JB:My parents were looking to have a house on a lake, and so they came up here and bought a lot and had that for a couple of years, and then my mother was able to find a job at the Salisbury Central School teaching second grade. So we moved up here and that is how I got here.
JM:And that is history. According to your mother the lot was bought on West Twin in 1964 from Astrid Satre. Then in 1967 they bought a lot and cottage on East Twin Lake from someone named Mr. Meyer. In 1969 the railroad property became available from the CNE so that they could have a driveway. Finally, I don’t have a date on this, but they bought a piece of property from the miles estate.
JB:Right, that was a piece of property that abutted the other side of the railroad tracks which gave them more of a front yard.
JM:So you have a total of ¾ acre of property.
JB:Close to that, yes.
JM:You have lived on Twin lakes now since 1967 so you are one of the longtime residents. How has it changed?
JB:It’s changed as far as population. When we first moved there, there were only 3 year round residents. Now we have a few more year round residents, but we have a lot more people coming up from New York City that basically spend not as much time as when I first moved up there; the families would come up, the mom would spend the whole summer there and then they would go home when school would start. Now you see more people just coming up for the weekends, or for a week here and there. The cottages that were there were mostly not winterized so there wasn’t anyone coming up during the winter. Now people will come up during the winter because they have redone the cottage. The dynamics of the families have changed as far as children that I grew up with; they are not coming back to the lake because they are out and about raising their own families in other parts of the country. Then it gets to the point where the parents now are getting older; they need to sell the property because their children don’t want to be part of it or can’t be part of it. So it has made a lot of new sales around the lake, Bringing in not local people, but weekenders.
JM:I am assuming that the property values have gone up considerably since ’67.
JB:Yes, they have. At last revaluation, they doubled, and some of them tripled on the lake. Our taxes are very high.
JM:They are now.
JB:When my mom and dad bought the property, that cottage was affordable to anybody. You could have bought a cottage in Lakeville for the same price as a cottage on the lake, but now you can’t do that. Now you can buy a house in Lakeville for maybe $2-300,000 if you are lucky. On the lake a cottage runs $900,000 to one million bucks. It has changed a lot.
JM:Now I am going to go back to your work experience. After you graduated from Berkley, where did you go to work?
JB:I went to work at the White Hart Inn in Salisbury. It was managed by John Harney; the owner was Reese Harris, and I was their secretary.
JM:How long did you work there, Jean?
JB:I worked there from when I got out of school in 1977 to 1983.
JM:And then what happened?
JB:Then Reese Harris sold the White Hart; John Harney went off to make Harney Teas.
JM:He went off to be a tea maker.
JB:Reese Harris asked me to come to be his secretary. He bought Herrick Travel in Lakeville. So I went down with him. I was his bookkeeper and secretary; he bought the building and the business from Doan and Mitch Finlay. They managed the business for several years after Reese Harris bought it. I slowly got into the front office; they trained me to do travel. Then I was actually bookkeeper, and manager of Herrick Travel.
JM:You worked there from when to when?
JB:I worked there from 1983 to 2005.
JM:Then didn’t you go off and start your own business at some point?
JB:Yes I did. Reese Harris passed away in 2005, no in 2004 because I think I was there a year finishing up things for them. When they closed the doors, I had to find a job. My clients were very supportive and said you can do this from home. So I worked from home, made a home office; I worked with a couple of different travel agencies, being part of that Goshen Travel, Premier Travel and Sanditz Travel at the end. (Her business was called Vacations by Jean.) I was outside sales so I didn’t really go into the office; I worked from home under their licensing.
JM:Telecommuting! How did you get into the Town Hall?
JB:When I was unemployed in 2005, a friend of mine Donna Maxwell was working with me at Twin Lakes too. She said that they needed some part time help a couple of days a week at the Tax Collector’s office opening envelopes. That wasn’t very exciting, but that is what I started out doing, and piling up checks.
JM:You have to start someplace.
JB:That’s how I got into the Town Hall, working for Denise Rice who was Tax Collector. I pretty much did that just when they had a busy time which would be during July and August when the first collections start.
JM:Did you also work in the Assessor’s Office?
JB:Yes I did. After being part time in the summer for Denise for a couple of years, the position became open for Barbara Bigos, the Assessor, who was not going to be able to be in on Wednesdays. They needed somebody who could commit to at least one day a week to be in the Assessor’s Office and then fill whenever fill-in work was needed. She trained me in the Assessor’s Office. When I wasn’t busy with the Assessor, if someone needed coverage, I worked in the Town Clerk’s Office, the First Selectman’s Office covering for her vacations and so forth.
JM:So you sort of floated around wherever you were needed.
JB:I floated around.4.
JM:What a lot of good skills you brought to them, and I hope that they appreciated all that you did.
JB:Very much so, and it was great for me because I learned the whole process from the Town Clerk to the Assessor to the Tax Collector. I was very fortunate to be able to have that experience.
JM:Now I am going to ask you some specifics about the Tax Collector. Did you have to have any training?
JB:Yes. The State of Connecticut requires appointed Tax Collectors to be certified. If you are elected it is not required that you be certified, but the Connecticut Tax Collectors Association runs courses in the spring and the fall. There are four classes; each class is 8 weeks. It covers a variety of things; I can’t even name them all, but a lot of math, all the statutes, etc. You have to pass the four courses, and then you have to take a 3 hour state exam which is multiple choice, true and false, and essay. If you pass the state exam, then after you have been a Tax Collector for three years, you will get your actual certification as a Tax collector.
JM:Have you actually been Tax Collector for three years?
JM:So you are not technically certified as a Tax Collector?
JB:Exactly, I don’t have my certification that I can put next to my name, CCMC. I shall receive it in April, 2013.
JM:What are your responsibilities as Tax Collector?
JB:They are vast. Basically I collect the money from the tax payers, make the deposit, and put the money in the bank so that the town has funds to spend on their bills. I work with appraisers who will come in and want to know the print-out of a person’s property, not only what it is worth, but also what the taxes are, and if they are up to date. Real estate agents come in, I work with them; they need to know if they are selling a house how much the taxes are going to be. State reports I work closely with Joe Cleaveland the Town Comptroller. The selectmen, obviously I report to them. I report to the Board of Finance so they know how much my collection rate is; if I am collecting the proper amount compared to past years which is very important to keep the mill rate down and to keep the budget equal.
JM:It really did profit you a lot working in the Assessor’s Office.
JM:That would dovetail nicely into what you are doing now.
JB:A lot of Tax collectors don’t work closely with their Assessors; they are sort of butt heads at times. We don’t have that problem here. I have been told when I take my classes about here; people
would talk not very nicely about their assessors because they didn’t do things the way they thought they should. Like I said we don’t have that problem here.
JM:Not in this town; everybody works together. Do you have any connections with the Building Inspector as far as evaluating or anything?
JB:I do not. Barbara Bigos does that. That is her job. Some towns do have an ordinance that if you haven’t paid your real estate taxes and you want to do an addition or some improvements to your home, you have to have your taxes paid up to date before you can get a permit, a building permit. We don’t have that here. That’s the only one where the Tax Collector would work with the Building Inspector.
JM:When you were working in the Assessor’s Office as part-time, did you have any training for that?
JB:Only on the job training.
JM:I imagine you also had on the job training when you were working with Denise Rice.
JB:Definitely. I had no interest in becoming an assessor so I didn’t pursue that, but if you wanted to you could take classes to be certified to be an assessor.
JM:What are some of the civic activities that you are involved in in town?
JB:Twin Lakes Association, I have been the treasurer for 20 some years for that.
JM:Aren’t you something on the Zoning Board?
JB:Oh yes, I am on the Zoning Board of Appeals, I forgot about that. I have been an administrative assistant on the Zoning Board of Appeals. We meet monthly and I just do all the minutes.
JM:It is helps to have notes from the previous talk; I have all the right answers. Tell me alittle bit about Twin lakes Association.
JB:The Twin lakes Association is an organization to preserve the lakes, all three- the first lake, the second lake, and the third lake: East Twin, West Twin and the Channel. There are several different names for the pieces. We preserve the quality of the water: we try to control the weeds. We are very active in keeping the town involved with our association because the town does support the association with weed harvesting, with patrolling of the lakes with the police. Basically we are just an organization that wants to keep our lakes healthy with water quality.
JM:Who from the town patrols the lake now?
JB:It’s Howie O’Dell.
JM:Still? He’s done it for a long time.
JB:I am not sure with our new resident trooper he’s got some new ideas. I think the patrol might be a little bit more, and it might be more police patrol than constable patrol. It is a constable right now who may not have much authority to arrest anybody for something serious.
JM:A citizen’s arrest would be about as much as he could do.
JB:I guess, yeah.
JM:Is there anything you would like to share about growing up in town or people?
JM:As a kid did you find it enjoyable growing up here?
JB:Yes, the only part as a child my parents bought the house which had not been winterized. So we spent a year or two in a house that was being renovated all the time with an outhouse. So when you are in 5th grade and 6th grade you don’t want friends to come over when you have tarpaper on the side of your house. I had a long bus ride, and so lots of time I ended up staying at school in my mother’s classroom until she was ready to go home. I still have a lot of friends from grammar school and high school. Now the people at the Town Hall, we are all different ages but are all like family. I would not have wanted to grow up anywhere else.
JM:Good. Is there anything that you would like to add that I haven’t asked you?
JB:I don’t think so.
JM:Thank you so much for your time and your input. I really appreciate it.
JB:You are most welcome.