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Community Spotlight

Community Spotlight

By Mark Morris

John Page and Claudia Pazmany

John Page and Claudia Pazmany say the chamber has stepped up its role this year in many ways to help businesses, including those in Hadley.

Before the pandemic, up to 80,000 cars would travel on Route 9 in Hadley each day, bringing workers, students, and customers to and through the town.

Known for its agriculture, proximity to the Five College community, and a robust retail corridor along Route 9, Hadley has been challenged, like all towns, since the arrival of COVID-19. But efforts by a group of town officials are meeting those challenges to keep Hadley viable today and well into the future.

David Nixon, deputy town administrator, said area colleges play an important role in the local economy. Hadley’s location is central to the Five College community, but Nixon actually sees it as a 30-campus community because that’s how many colleges are within an hour’s drive of Hadley.

While some campuses are open, others have stayed closed, and some are taking a hybrid approach, mixing on-site classes with distance learning.

“This has had an impact on local businesses,” he said, noting that less activity at the colleges, most notably UMass Amherst, which borders Hadley, adds to the struggles many businesses are facing as they try to comply with pandemic restrictions and stay afloat. “Right now, we are doing as much as possible to keep people safe and to support our businesses.”

Hadley officials have reduced licensing fees and expedited the process for businesses that are adapting to state COVID-19 guidelines. For example, when restaurants had to amend their food and liquor license permits to allow outdoor service, Nixon said the town was quick to respond to get the changes made.

“We’ve also expedited the inspections that are necessary when a business changes the footprint of their building,” he added, noting that cooperation among the town’s Planning Board, building inspectors, Fire Department, and Select Board ensured an easier process for the businesses involved.

Hadley is also one of seven communities benefiting from a $900,000 Community Development Block Grant to help microbusinesses stay afloat during the pandemic. Easthampton is the lead community on the grant, which allows businesses with five or fewer employees to apply for up to $10,000 in grant money.

David Nixon

David Nixon

“This project is also an opportunity to replace 100-year old sewer and water pipelines under Route 9. By doing this all at once, it will save taxpayers a lot of money.”

Also pitching in to help businesses is the Amherst Area Chamber of Commerce, which covers Hadley and other surrounding towns. Claudia Pazmany, executive director of the chamber, said the area has been fortunate in that the number of COVID-19 cases is lower than most parts of the state. To keep it that way, the chamber is now providing PPE, as well as printed posters and floor decals, that reinforce messages of social distancing, mask wearing, and hand washing. Available at no charge to chamber members, the signage is just one of the ways to help businesses get back on their feet.

“These are not business-saving techniques by themselves, but we hope to help our members reduce their costs as they open back up under the new guidelines,” she told BusinessWest.

 

Lines of Communication

The chamber has stepped up its role during the pandemic in other ways as well. “Our ability to advocate for and to market our businesses has become even stronger since COVID-19,” Pazmany noted, adding that it’s one of the few “silver linings” of these times.

The town and the chamber have been working together on a series of Zoom meetings with local businesses to hear their concerns and offer whatever help they can, she said. “We’ve been hosting these meetings to keep an open conversation between the town and businesses.”

One of the popular topics in the meetings has been the widening of Route 9, which is expected to start next year. The $26 million project will add travel and turning lanes to the road.

“This project is also an opportunity to replace 100-year old sewer and water pipelines under Route 9,” Nixon said. “By doing this all at once, it will save taxpayers a lot of money.”

Pazmany said the Route 9 widening has been in the planning phase for years, and once complete, the improvements will benefit all who use the roadway.

“Many people use the bus to go to work and school. Among other things, the widening project will provide much safer bus stops and allow buses to get more people moving in an efficient manner.”

The widening project will begin at Town Hall and go east for 2.6 miles to the intersection of Route 9 and Maple Street.

Business owners located along Route 9 have expressed concerns about the loss of business due to COVID-19 being followed up by a loss of business due to road construction. To alleviate that concern, the town has applied for an economic-development grant to market the Route 9 corridor. John Page, the chamber’s marketing and membership manager, said the idea is to position Route 9 as a great place to open a business.

“The grant would be about marketing and planning the future of Route 9 post-COVID,” he explained. “Hopefully, that’s coming sooner rather than later.”

As plans for the future of the town come into focus, Pazmany reminded everyone that Hadley has a great deal to offer right now.

“For those looking for a day trip, this is the time to come and visit,” she said, adding that, with the arrival of autumn, “Hadley will be at its most beautiful and picturesque in the next few weeks.”

She noted that many local restaurants participate in farm-to-table efforts with Hadley farms supplying many of the vegetables.

And, as more people take part in outdoor activities, the Norwottuck Rail Trail bike path has seen more riders than ever before, she said. The path runs completely through Hadley and features scenic views of farms and neighborhoods.

Hadley at a glance

Year Incorporated: 1661
Population: 5,250
Area: 24.6 square miles
County: Hampshire
Residential Tax Rate: $12.78
Commercial Tax Rate: $12.78
Median Household Income: $51,851
Median Family Income: $61,897
Type of Government: Open Town Meeting, Board of Selectmen
Largest Employers: Super Stop & Shop; Evaluation Systems Group Pearson; Elaine Center at Hadley; Home Depot; Lowe’s Home Improvement
* Latest information available

Nixon said the rail trail gives people another perspective on his town. “I often talk about the view of Hadley from Route 9 and the view from the bike path. They look like two completely different communities.”

 

Moving On

Two out of three building projects started last year in Hadley have been completed. The new Senior Center is complete and providing remote programs for residents. The new fire substation is also up and running, and the town library is close to completion.

As those projects conclude, Nixon is planning to wrap up his 15-year career with Hadley and retire on Dec. 31. To transition out of his role as town administrator, he has assumed the title of deputy town administrator while he helps Carolyn Brennan, the recently hired town administrator, transition into the job.

As someone who has been involved in municipal governments for more than 30 years, Brennan’s experience ranges from working with councils on aging in Amherst, Hampden, and East Longmeadow. She remains active as a selectman in Wilbraham, where she lives. Back when Brennan was a student at UMass, she lived in Hadley and worked at the Shady Lawn Rest Home.

Brennan said she’s glad to be back and described Hadley as being in great shape thanks to the town employees and Nixon’s management. “Having worked in other municipalities, I’m impressed with the all of the employees; they are real stakeholders in their community.”

She also appreciates having Nixon work with her while she gets acclimated to the job. “With David staying on until the end of the year, you couldn’t ask for a better transition plan for the town and for me.”

As for Nixon, he reflected on his career with Hadley and spoke of how rewarding it was to serve the town for 15 years.

“I’ll definitely miss the people,” he said. “I’m glad I was part of advancing our community a little further down the road.”

Senior Planning

Start the Conversation

From the AARP FOUNDATION

The reality is that some conversations are just plain difficult — even with the people to whom you feel the closest. When preparing to discuss a difficult topic like senior care needs, it helps to follow the ground rules below to ensure that everyone’s feelings are respected and viewpoints are heard. To help make the conversation as productive and positive as possible:

1. Try not to approach the conversation with preconceived ideas about what your loved ones might say or how they might react. “Dad, I just wanted to have a talk about what you want. Let’s just start with what is important to you.”

2. Approach the conversation with an attitude of listening, not telling. “Dad, have you thought about what you want to do if you needed more help?” — as opposed to “we really need to talk about a plan if you get sick.”

3. Make references to yourself and your own thoughts about what you want for the future. Let them know they are not alone, that everyone will have to make these decisions. “Look, I know this isn’t fun to think about or talk about, but I really want to know what’s important to you. I’m going to do the same thing for myself.”

4. Be very straightforward with the facts. Do not hide negative information, but also be sure to acknowledge and build on family strengths. “As time goes on, it might be difficult to stay in this house because of all the stairs, but you have other options. Let’s talk about what those might be.”

5. Phrase your concerns as questions, letting your loved ones draw conclusions and make the choices. “Mom, do you think you might want a hand with some of the housekeeping or shopping?”

6. Give your loved ones room to get angry or upset, but address these feelings calmly. “I understand all this is really hard to talk about. It is upsetting for me, too. But it’s important for all of us to discuss.”

7. Leave the conversation open. It’s okay to continue the conversation at another time. “Dad, it’s OK if we talk about this more later. I just wanted you to start thinking about how you would handle some of these things.”

8. Make sure everyone is heard — especially those family members who might be afraid to tell you what they think. “Susan, I know this is really hard for you. What do you think about what we are suggesting?”

9. End the conversation on a positive note. “This is a hard conversation for both of us, but I really appreciate you having it.”

10. Plan something relaxing or fun after the conversation to remind everyone why you enjoy being a family. Go out to dinner, attend services together, or watch a favorite TV program.

These are just a few suggestions of things you, your loved ones, and other family members can do to unwind after a difficult conversation.

Senior Planning

Having the Talk

From VISITING ANGELS

Here are sample conversation starters and strategies to introduce home-care services to your loved one. Each scenario is a catalyst to take action and start talking. Prior to talking, prepare and arrange with a reliable friend or your spouse to take part in the plan.

SCENARIO: Your loved one mentions plans to drive to the grocery store. He’s shown signs of unsafe driving (getting lost or confused or unexplained dents on the car). Coordinate with a trusted neighbor, friend, or spouse to serve as a driver for one trip. 

SAY: “I see you’re planning to go to the grocery store.  I think it would be a great idea to ride with [the neighbor/friend/spouse] next time or even hire a professional who can take you where you need to go. You could tell her exactly where you want to go, and she’ll get you there. You’d be in control.”

SCENARIO: You noticed your mom or dad isn’t eating.  

SAY: “I don’t have the time to stay and cook tonight, but [neighbor/friend/spouse] loves to cook, and said she would love to cook with you tomorrow night, and she won’t have to leave early. Then you won’t have to worry about making dinner, and the family will feel good knowing someone’s with you to help you out in the kitchen. You can tell them what you’d like to eat, and you’ll be in total control. Let’s at least try it and talk about it afterward to see if it’s an arrangement you’d like.”

SCENARIO: Your loved one forgets to take her medicine repeatedly. (Alert the doctor first.)

SAY: “I’m worried that you forgot to take your medicine again. I spoke with your doctor, and he’s especially concerned about missing doses. He suggested we find a way prevent it from happening. I thought a professional caregiver would be really helpful. Let’s at least give it a try and see how you like it. Then we can talk about it and see if it’s something you want going forward.”

SCENARIO: Your elderly loved one is struggling to get dressed, whether it’s a fall or a misbuttoned shirt. You’ve realized they need help in the bedroom to get dressed.

SAY: “I’ve noticed you’re wearing the same clothes again. What if we got you a helper for the mornings — someone who can stop by and help get you ready for the day? She could even do a load of laundry or two; that’s completely on your terms. Think of how nice it’ll be knowing there’s one less thing you have to do. Mind if we give this a try?”

SCENARIO: You notice a high pile of dishes in the kitchen sink. 

SAY: “I know you care about keeping your place clean and tidy. But your dishes have piled up again, and the kitchen’s getting dirty. I’ll help you get those done, but what if we explored getting someone in here to keep the dishes done and the place clean? We’d love to take that off your plate, and then everyone can feel good knowing your house is clean and the way you like it. Let’s at least give it a try and go from there.”

Senior Planning

Understand the Difference, and Seek Help If It’s Needed

By Beth Cardillo

As Baby Boomers are getting older and representing the largest age group, the questions concerning dementia, as opposed to normal aging, continue to crop up in medical offices.

In the Greater Springfield area, 16.9% of residents over age 65 are living with a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease or other related dementia. The national average is 13.6%.

Someone develops Alzheimer’s disease every 68 seconds, with 5 million Americans affected, and the number expected to increase to 20 million by 2050.

Given these numbers, it’s understandable when loved ones become concerned when they notice a family member having memory issues. It’s also understandable when people start to wonder themselves if they a problem. So how does one know if it’s dementia or simply normal aging?

“Someone develops Alzheimer’s disease every 68 seconds, with 5 million Americans affected, and the number expected to increase to 20 million by 2050.”

Let’s discuss normal aging first, so you can have a sigh of relief. We all have occasional word-finding difficulties, but you can come up with the word given a bit of time. Not remembering someone’s name if you don’t see them often, or see them out of context, is normal. That is something we all do. Misplacing an item, but having the ability to retrace your steps and locate the item, is also normal. How many times do we all walk into a room and not remember why, then walk out and immediately remember, ‘oh yeah, I was getting the book I left on the couch’?

Rest assured, these are all normal signs of aging. Have any of you purchased ‘the tile’ so you can keep track of your keys, work keys, iPad, and whatever else you need? It can even help you find where you parked your car, which is extremely helpful in New York City, where there’s alternate parking every day.

What isn’t normal is having new problems finding words when speaking or writing (more than being on the tip of your tongue) and you just can’t bring them up. Or forgetting things more often, such as appointments, events, and your way around familiar places. Perhaps you can’t remember or keep up with conversations, books, movies, or newspapers. Are you stopping in the middle of the conversation because you can’t remember what was just said, or the thread of the conversation?

Also, are decisions harder to make? Is your judgment a bit skewed? Are friends and families asking if you are OK? Are you showing up to people’s homes or appointments on the wrong date? Is your mood and behavior a bit unstable or unpredictable? Are you withdrawing from social activities because you don’t want people to notice that you are having difficulty, but instead they notice you aren’t showing up?

These are symptoms of mild cognitive impairment, a precursor to a full dementia diagnosis.

There are more than 100 types of dementia. People are very reluctant to use the ‘A’ word. They quickly point out it’s not Alzheimer’s or they have just “a little bit of dementia.” The reality is that Alzheimer’s disease accounts for approximately 75% of all dementias. It could be vascular dementia, frontotemporal lobe dementia, Parkinson’s disease, or the 97 other types, and often they are concurrent. If you feel like this could be you, contact a neurologist, or a neuropsychologist, or the Alzheimer’s Assoc. at (413) 787-1113.

Today, there is no cure, but there are medications that can slow down the progression of the disease. Diet, exercise, genetics, and co-morbidities all play a part in the diagnosis, and it is said that those physiological changes could be forming in the brain 10 to 20 years before the actual symptoms start to show. There is no shame in asking for help if you feel you may have increased symptoms or you suspect them in a loved one.

On a side note, worth mentioning is that COVID-19 has wreaked havoc with the senior population, and the virus could be a new type of dementia. It has many side effects consistent with dementia if the virus has traveled to the brain. People are experiencing physiological and neurological changes within the brain, causing confusion, seizures, emotional dysregulation, and strokes that are having long-term effects.

Beth Cardillo, M.Ed., LSW, CDP is a licensed social worker, certified dementia practitioner, and executive director of Armbrook Village, and has worked in the dementia field for more than 20 years. Previous to working with dementia, she opened the nation’s first state-funded traumatic brain injury program in Westfield. She was named Western New England Social Worker of the Year in 2016, and was the 2019 Friends of the Alzheimer’s Assoc. Honoree of the Year; [email protected]; www.armbrookvillage.com

Senior Planning

How Will You Know If Your Older Parents Need Help?

By Brenda Labbe

Many experience aging as a joyful time in their life, filled with retirement, travel, and spending more time with family. But for some, aging represents a series of losses — loss of employment, health and energy, friends, mobility, and independence.

As such, it is not uncommon for older adults to resist reaching out for help. To help start the conversation, we have listed some common signs that might indicate your loved one may need some extra support.

“Stacks of unopened mail, late-payment notices, unfilled prescriptions, and the lack of general upkeep of the house can all be signs that your loved one may need someone to assist with bill paying or homemaking.”

1. Neglecting household responsibilities. Stacks of unopened mail, late-payment notices, unfilled prescriptions, and the lack of general upkeep of the house can all be signs that your loved one may need someone to assist with bill paying or homemaking. Lack of interest in eating or preparing nutritious food and/or lack of food in the home can be a sign that they may need help with grocery shopping or meal prep.

2. Frequent falls. If your loved one experiences frequent falls or you have observed new bruises on their face or body, chances are they should be evaluated by their physician for illness, dehydration, or infections, or X-rayed for fractures. Other items that can increase the risk for falls include the lack of proper medication management and the lack of proper safety equipment in the home. You may want to consider having a safety evaluation of the home to look for any other factors that may be contributing to their falls.

3. Unsafe driving. As our bodies slow down in the aging process, so too will our reflexes, which can make driving even more difficult. Observe your loved one’s car for new scrapes, scratches, dings, or missing mirrors. Avoiding driving or not being able to tolerate any changes in directions may indicate some cognitive changes which signal that now might be the time to consider transportation assistance.

4. Listen for clues in conversation. Many seniors will state they do not want to burden their busy adult children with requests for help. They describe feeling foolish for not being able to keep up with cleaning, medications, or repairs. However, if you listen closely, you may hear repeated areas of concern. Your loved one’s close friends or neighbors may also have input to offer, if asked in confidence.

Finally, consider the old adage “it is all in how you wrap the gift.” In this case, the gift is the offer of help and support. Try asking the question in a manner that is non-threatening and neutral. For example: “gosh, I would be so overwhelmed if I got all this mail — how about I help you go through it?”

Unfortunately, many people will experience a traumatic event before realizing that they need assistance. One way to help better prepare for any emergencies is to monitor your loved one’s physical and mental abilities and start researching care options before you need them. Greater Springfield Senior Services is your local resource to find help, support, and care for your loved one.

Call our office Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and ask to speak with one of our highly trained information and referral specialists to find out more. Knowledge is power, and we are here to help.

Brenda Labbe is the caregiver specialist at Greater Springfield Senior Services and specializes in assisting caregivers in accessing respite and support services for their loved ones.

Senior Planning

It’s Important to Understand Your Alternatives

By Eric Aasheim

Moving from home to a senior-living community is one of the most consequential decisions elder loved ones may be faced with in their lifetimes.

The move is usually permanent; is unfortunately often made in crisis mode or under duress, and involves a host of emotional and psychological implications around declining physical capabilities, perceived loss of independence, and financial worry.

“Moving from home to a senior-living community is one of the most consequential decisions elder loved ones may be faced with in their lifetimes.”

Knowing the answers to these commonly asked questions will help seniors and their adult children plan ahead and ultimately put themselves in a position to make thoughtful and informed decisions about the most appropriate living and care options for their needs.

What is the difference between independent living, assisted living, memory care, and skilled nursing?

Independent living (IL) is intended for seniors who do not need assistance or supervision with independent activities of daily living (IADLs) like showering, dressing, toileting, eating, or transferring (mobility, bed to standing, sitting to standing, etc.).

Most IL communities provide apartments with full kitchens, and the monthly fee includes one main meal per day in the dining room. Independent living in Western Mass. ranges from $2,000 to $5,000 per month.

Assisted living (AL) communities are appropriate for seniors who require some level of assistance with two or more IADLs and help with medication management; apartments are typically equipped with a kitchenette only because the monthly fee includes three restaurant-style meals per day. Assisted living in Western Mass. ranges from $4,000 to $9,000 per month.

Memory care (MC) is intended for individuals who have dementia, Alzheimer’s, or other neurogenerative diseases and require an intensive or specialized program of care and supervision. Memory-care communities are secure settings with passcode entrances and enclosed outdoor spaces to keep residents on site, and can be stand-alone facilities or a separate wing or ‘neighborhood’ within a traditional assisted-living community. Memory-care communities most often provide private studio or shared companion suites for their residents. Memory care in Western Mass. ranges from $3,500 (companion suites) to $11,000 per month.

Skilled-nursing facilities (SNFs) are licensed healthcare residences for individuals who require a higher level of medical care than can be provided in an AL setting. Skilled-nursing staffs consisting of RNs, LPNs and CNAs (certified nursing assistants) provide 24-hour medical attention for their long-term and short-term rehabilitation residents. While private rooms are available in many SNFs, shared living arrangements with two or three residents to a hospital-style room are much more common. Skilled-nursing facilities in Western Mass. range from $250 to more than $500 per day.

Can I receive care at home rather than moving to a senior-living community?

Absolutely. There are any number of quality home-care companies that can provide a wide range of custodial and healthcare services in the comfort of your own home. Home care is often referred to as non-skilled care (grooming, dressing, bathing, cleaning, and other everyday tasks) and home health care as skilled care (skilled nursing and therapy).

Seniors who are largely independent but can benefit from limited home care or home-healthcare services may choose to continue living in their homes as long as these services help them do so safely. Unless you hire a full-time live-in, skilled and non-skilled care are typically provided for only a few hours per day a few days per week, meaning family members often are called upon to supplement the home-care schedule on their own.

Seniors who are at risk for (or have experienced) frequent falls or who require consistent overnight supervision or assistance may find that moving to an assisted-living community provides them with a more secure living environment.

The choice between home care and senior living is highly personal and almost always comes down to a question of safety, location, the desire and need for socialization, and finances.

What is a continuing-care retirement community (CCRC), and what are the benefits compared to other senior-living communities?

Continuing-care retirement communities (CCRCs) are senior-living communities that offer a complete continuum of care (IL, AL, MC, and SNF), usually on a single campus. The primary benefit of a CCRC is that you can stay in the same community and never have to move, even as your care requirements change as you age. CCRCs (also referred to as life-plan communities) do typically require a substantial up-front community fee that can range from $10,000 to $300,000 or more depending on the community, the structure of the life-care plan, and the size and type of apartment.

Many CCRCs offer declining, refundable options that can return 70% to 90% of the up-front community fee to the resident when he or she moves, or to her estate when the resident passes away. CCRCs do still charge monthly fees, but they are often lower and increase less from one level of care to the next than traditional senior-living communities. CCRCs also offer a potential tax-deduction benefit that many non-CCRCs do not provide.

Will my health insurance cover the cost of assisted living or memory care? What if I am eligible for Medicaid?

Medicare and private insurance plans do not cover the cost of assisted living or memory care. Medicare will cover short-term and intermittent home care or rehabilitation stays in a SNF following hospitalization, but will not pay for either long-term. Seniors generally must pay for assisted living, memory care, and home care privately unless they have long-term-care insurance with benefits specifically designed to cover these services.

Qualifying veterans and their spouses may be eligible for the aid and attendance benefit from the VA to help pay for the cost of assisted living, memory care, home care, and skilled-nursing facilities.

Some, but not most, assisted-living and memory-care communities do participate in programs administered by Medicare and Medicaid that are designed for low-income seniors who could otherwise not afford senior-living communities.

Medicaid does cover the cost of long-term care in Medicaid-certified skilled-nursing facilities and home healthcare services for recipients who would qualify for nursing-home care.

What other senior-living and care options are there?

• Residential care facilities (also called rest homes) provide meals, housing, supervision, and care for seniors who need assistance with activities of daily living but don’t yet require skilled nursing care.

• Congregate housing is a shared-living environment that combines housing, meals, and other services for seniors but does not provide 24-hour care or supervision. Public congregate housing is administered by municipal housing authorities and is partially subsidized by the state and federal government.

• Adult foster care is an alternative to residential care and matches seniors who can no longer live on their own with individuals or families who provide room, board, and personal care in their homes.

• Respite care is short-term care and supervision provided for seniors at home or in assisted-living or skilled-nursing facilities to provide family members who need some time off from their caregiver duties.

• Adult day health programs (also called adult day care) provide a wide array of community-based services for seniors during the day (skilled nursing, supervision, direct care, nutrition and dietary services, and therapeutic, social, and recreational activities) so that family members can work or attend to other responsibilities.

• Hospice care is available for individuals with life-threatening illnesses or a life expectancy of six months or less and can be provided in the home, in assisted-living or skilled-nursing facilities, in the hospital, or in specialized hospice facilities. When curative treatment is no longer an option, hospice professionals work to make a patient’s life as dignified and comfortable as possible and provide critical emotional and spiritual support services to the patient and family members.

How have senior-living and care options been impacted by COVID-19?

In short, the impact has been profound, and the ‘new normal’ is taking shape as we speak. Most home-care providers and senior-living communities have resumed services to current and new clients at some level. However, the provision of these services is governed by strict protocols to protect the health and safety of residents, staff, and family members.

For instance, many assisted-living communities are not currently offering in-person tours and assessments and instead facilitating these interactions virtually. Since most senior-living communities are observing social-distancing guidelines, new residents must quarantine for 14 days after move-in, and residents are dining in their apartments rather than in the community dining room. Social activities and outings have largely been modified or canceled, and visits from family members have been curtailed for the time being.

Eric Aasheim is a certified senior advisor and owner of Oasis Senior Living of Western Massachusetts. He assists seniors and family members through the entire process of transitioning from home to senior-living communities in Hampden, Hampshire, and Berkshire counties and surrounding areas.

Accounting and Tax Planning

This Measure Changes the Retirement Landscape in Several Ways

It’s called the Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act, and it was signed into law just a few weeks ago and took effect on Jan. 1. It is making an impact on taxpayers already, and individuals should know and understand its many provisions.

By Ian Coddington and Gabriel Jacobson

Signed into law Dec. 20, 2019, the SECURE Act, or Setting Every Community Up for Retirement Enhancement Act, has changed the retirement landscape for Americans retiring or planning to retire in the future.

The prominent components of the SECURE Act remove the maximum age for Traditional IRA contributions, increase the age for required minimum distributions, change how IRA benefits are received after death, and expand the types of expenses applicable to education savings funds. This law offsets some of the spending included in the budget bill by accelerating distribution of tax-deferred accounts.

Ian Coddington

Gabriel Jacobson

Due to the timing of this new legislation, there will be many questions from tax filers regarding the new rules and what changes apply to their plans. We hope this article will provide a starting point for understanding the changes that will impact us come tax time.

A Traditional IRA, or Traditional Individual Retirement Account, can be opened at most financial institutions.

Unless your income is above a certain threshold, every dollar of earned income from wages or self-employment contributed to the account by an individual reduces your annual taxable income dollar for dollar. This assumes you do not contribute above the annual limit into one or more tax-deferred retirement accounts.

Due to increasing life expectancy, the SECURE Act has eliminated the maximum age limit that an individual may contribute to a Traditional IRA. Prior to 2020, the maximum age was 70½.

The SECURE Act also raises the age that an individual with investments held in a Traditional IRA or other tax-deferred retirement account, such as a 401(k), must take distributions from 70½ to 72. These required minimum distributions, or RMDs, serve as the government’s way of collecting on tax-deferred income and are taxed at the individual’s income-tax rates, so no special investment-tax rates apply.

Each year, the distribution must equal a certain fraction of the year-end balance of an individual’s tax-deferred retirement account. The tax penalty for omitting all or a portion of your annual RMD is 50% of the amount of the RMD not withdrawn. The fraction is known as the life-expectancy factor and is based on the individual’s age.

The SECURE Act did not change the life-expectancy factors for 2020, but a change is expected for 2021. Unfortunately, RMDs for individuals who reached 70½ by Dec. 31, 2019 are not delayed. Such individuals must continue to take their RMDs under the same rules as prior to passage of the SECURE Act.

“With the SECURE Act going into effect Jan. 1, 2020, the law is making an impact on taxpayers now. The effects of this will continue over the next few years, as death benefits for beneficiaries and minimum distributions will not affect all retirees immediately.”

Individuals who inherit Traditional or Roth IRAs during or after Jan. 1, 2020 are now subject to a shorter time frame for RMDs pursuant to the SECURE Act. Prior to passage of the SECURE Act, individuals were able to withdraw funds from their IRAs over various schedules. The longest schedule was based on the beneficiary’s life expectancy and could last the majority of the individual’s life.

This allowed those who inherited Traditional IRAs to stretch the tax liabilities on those RMDs discussed previously over a longer period, reducing the annual tax burden. Under the current law, distributions to most non-spouse beneficiaries are required to be distributed within 10 years following the plan participant’s or IRA owner’s death (the 10-year rule). This may increase the size of RMD payments and push an individual to a higher tax bracket.

Exceptions to the 10-year rule are allowed for distributions to the following recipients: the surviving spouse, who receives the account value as if they were the owner of the IRA; an IRA owner’s child who has not yet reached majority; a chronically ill individual; and any other individual who is not more than 10 years younger than the IRA owner. Those beneficiaries who qualify under this exception may continue to take their distributions through the predefined life-expectancy rules.

Section 529 plans have also been expanded by the SECURE Act. These plans can be opened at most financial institutions and are established by a state or educational institution.

These 529 plans use post-tax contributions to generate tax-free earnings to pay for qualified educational expenses. As long as the distributions pay for these expenses, they will be tax-free. Qualified distributions include tuition, fees, books, and supplies. Previously, distributions were only tax-free if paid toward qualified education expenses for public and private institutions; now, they will include registered apprenticeships and repayment of certain student loans.

This will expand the qualified distributions to include equipment needed to complete apprenticeships and technical classes and training. For repayment of student loans, an individual is able to pay the principal or interest on qualified education loans of the beneficiary, up to $10,000. This can also include a sibling of the beneficiary, if the account holder has multiple children.

With the SECURE Act going into effect Jan. 1, 2020, the law is making an impact on taxpayers now. The effects of this will continue over the next few years, as death benefits for beneficiaries and minimum distributions will not affect all retirees immediately.

This article does not qualify as legal advice. Seek your tax professional or retirement advisor with additional questions on the impact this will have in your individual situation.

Ian Coddington and Gabriel Jacobson are associates with Holyoke-based public accounting firm Meyers Brothers Kalicka, P.C.; [email protected]; [email protected]

Smith Executive Education invites you to leverage your organization’s unique mission and function to align with the growing knowledge base for sustainability practices in the workplace. Four weeks of online learning and a one-hour virtual live session with expert Dano Weisbord, Executive Director of Sustainability and Campus Planning at Smith College. This course is designed for your busy schedule, with four weeks of online learning and a one-hour virtual live session with faculty. Take advantage of this special introductory pricing

Holiday Party Planner

Many Ways to Celebrate

Lynn Kennedy says the Log Cabin, Delaney House, and Log Rolling catering services have something for every business during the holiday season, no matter their size. 

Companies have long celebrated the hard work they’ve done over the course of the year with a holiday party. Whether hosting a small gathering or a large corporate bash, plenty of restaurants, banquet facilities, and caterers in the Western Mass. area are willing to get the job done each year. Although these parties have been popular for decades, owners and managers say trends are always changing in how people want to celebrate the year and ring in a new one.

Lynn Kennedy says one of the most common things she hears from employers booking holiday parties is that they want to do something special for the people that work for them.

“This is something people don’t want to do halfway,” said Kennedy, director of Sales and Marketing at the Log Cabin. “They want to go all in because they realize it’s the best way for them to show their employees the appreciation they deserve for a lot of hard work that they put out there.”

While end-of-the-year holiday parties have long been a tradition for companies of all sizes, employers are finding new ways to show employees their appreciation this season.

Aside from the traditional but enjoyable small group parties and restaurant reservations, companies are going above and beyond to make sure all employees are able to join in the celebration, no matter how big the organization may be.

The Log Cabin offers a wide array of options for holiday parties, including small-group holiday parties that are always a hit. Indeed, the facility is hosting a total of six this year, as opposed to the usual four or five, because of how popular they are.

“This is something people don’t want to do halfway. They want to go all in because they realize it’s the best way for them to show their employees the appreciation they deserve for a lot of hard work that they put out there.”

The Starting Gate at GreatHorse is another popular venue for small-group holiday parties, including a Breakfast with Santa, a Holiday Dinner Dance with the Clark Eno Orchestra, and the annual Holiday Luncheon with Dan Kane & Friends.

Cathy Stephens, director of Catering Sales, says these events are affordable options for small to mid-sized companies looking to enjoy a festive night.

“It is cost-effective for the smaller and even the mid-size companies to host their holiday celebration at venues that are providing live entertainment and a festive menu that satisfies just about everyone,” she said. “It also provides the opportunity to network with other local businesses.”

In addition to Center Square Grill, Bill Collins recently opened another restaurant, HighBrow, in Northampton.

There is no shortage of businesses in the Western Mass. area, and all have their own preferences as to what kind of gathering will appeal to their employees. This encourages restaurants like Center Square Grill to expand their options and accommodate unique requests.

Owner Bill Collins says he does his best to work with any request, no matter how big or small, and often does so himself to make sure everything goes smoothly.

“What makes this restaurant stand out is that the owner is on deck,” he said, adding that General Manager Kim Hulslander is also frequently involved with booking parties. “If you want to call and work with me, you’re going to get me on the phone. You’re in ownership’s hands when you’re booking an event with us, and we see it through to the end.”

The holiday season poses a strong business opportunity for restaurants and banquet facilities, but it is also a great time for caterers.

“We have people who book at the end of the prior year. Once their holiday party finishes, most people, within a week or two, are booking already for the next year.”

Nosh Restaurant and Café in Springfield may be fairly small on the inside, but its catering business is booming, and uses creative food and elegant edible centerpieces to stand out from the competition.

“I think our food is super creative, and we present it beautifully,” said owner Teri Skinner. “It’s important to be creative in how you present the food, the taste, and the flavors. It’s really what a catering company is built on.”

These caterers are seeing a lot more business around the holidays over the past few years for a number of reasons. For this year’s holiday party planning issue, BusinessWest spoke with local restaurants and caterers about these changing traditions and how they strive to stand out among local competition.

Teri Skinner, owner of Nosh, says it’s important to be creative when it comes to food presentation.

Keep Them Coming Back

When Missy Baker at Arland Tool e-mailed Skinner to set up the company’s annual party, she sent just five short words: “all set for the 24th?” Skinner responded, “yes, we’re all set.”

That’s because this is the seventh or eighth time Skinner has hosted Arland’s annual party, and she knows exactly what they like and need.

“It’s great for the customer because they know I’m going to be there, they know the quality of food, and it’s great for me because I know how much they eat and how long it takes,” Skinner said. “It’s a very precise job that we can control very well.”

These kinds of relationships are not uncommon for restaurants and caterers, and it’s often the unique experiences customers have that keeps them coming back year after year.

Collins noted that a loyal clientele books parties at Center Square Grill every year.

“For us not being a big corporate chain, I just try to go above and beyond for the customer,” he said. “It’s worth it for me to do that to try to build in the business year after year.”

Some sites, like the Log Cabin, are so popular that regulars will book their next annual event just weeks after they enjoy their party this year.

“There are a lot of companies where their business is heaviest during this season, and it doesn’t make sense for them to actually have the celebration before Christmas, so they do it as a type of new-year celebration.”

“We have people who book at the end of the prior year,” Kennedy said. “Once their holiday party finishes, most people, within a week or two, are booking already for the next year.”

This mainly includes the larger parties that rent out big rooms at the Log Cabin for 300 to 400 people, like Tighe & Bond, Florence Bank, and PeoplesBank.

Because of the desire for a smaller, more intimate setting, Kennedy says the company’s Delaney House, where several rooms can fit 15 to 50 people, is also jam-packed during the holidays. Whatever the booking party’s size, she has seen an increase in catering over the last few years, which she credits partly to a changing workforce schedule.

“A major component of that is work schedules because you have first and second and third shifts of people,” she said. “Heads of businesses are really trying to figure out a way to incorporate their entire workforce in a holiday celebration and not just limit it to a particular time.”

These multi-shift businesses include news crews, manufacturers, and even hospitals, where it is nearly impossible to get everyone in the same room at the same time. This is where Log Rolling, the catering service for Log Cabin and the Delaney House, comes in handy.

“They’ll come in and ask us, ‘can you set up a breakfast for our morning crew? Can you set up a lunch for our afternoon crew? Can you set up a dinner for our evening crew?’ so everyone is kind of being hit at a different time and everyone gets to enjoy that holiday experience,” Kennedy said.

Making Spirits Bright

Caterers aren’t the only ones bringing unique styles to holiday celebrations. At Center Square Grill, Collins says customized packages are available for parties of any size, including both food and décor.

The restaurant offers packages for private dining that start at $20 and typically go up to $45 per person, although that isn’t the limit. Lower packages might offer unlimited alcoholic beverages with an entrée choice and a salad. With the $45 packages, everyone is greeted with a glass of champagne and gets an appetizer, salad, entrée, and dessert.

Collins also said he can arrange rooms in a variety of ways, with everything from decorated tables for a sit-down dinner to cocktail tables for a more casual night out.

“What’s unique about us is that you can come here casually, or you can come here dressed up, and you’re not going to feel bad in either direction,” he said. “We want you to be comfortable coming in for a burger and a beer or filet, oysters, and a bottle of champagne.”

Perhaps one of the most important parts about a holiday party is the quality and presentation of food, Skinner said. From everything from the plate the food goes on to the way the food itself is presented itself, Nosh puts together each “edible centerpiece” with with care.

“We call them edible centerpieces because they’re so beautiful when they go out,” she elaborated. “That’s how we build things here. We want them to look gorgeous and taste great, so that’s our goal at the end of the day.”

Cathy Stephens says events at Great Horse, including the holiday dinner dance and holiday luncheon, are perfect for businesses with a smaller budget.

More recently, Nosh catered a Halloween party for Northwest Mutual and provided edible centerpieces, appetizers, and a bartender dressed up for the spooky season.

Skinner agrees that catering has become more popular over the years and thinks a lot of people just want to feel comfortable and laid-back. “I think having it at home or at an office is relaxing,” she said.

Perhaps one of the most relaxing options all these restaurants have seen is the decision to hold off on a holiday party until the beginning of the following year to avoid the craziness of booking during peak season.

Kennedy says people normally book parties at the Log Cabin through the first few weeks of January, but some even book all the way into February.

“There are a lot of companies where their business is heaviest during this season, and it doesn’t make sense for them to actually have the celebration before Christmas, so they do it as a type of new-year celebration,” she said.

This happens frequently at restaurants in the area as well, and it’s the reason why Center Square keeps decorations up well into the new year so customers can still feel the holiday spirit even after the holidays are over.

In short, whether businesses are going with a new tradition or sticking with an old one, there is no shortage of options for holiday parties in Western Mass. — and banquet halls and restaurants say they’re happy to oblige.

Kayla Ebner can be reached at [email protected]

Smith Executive Education invites you to leverage your organization’s unique mission and function to align with the growing knowledge base for sustainability practices in the workplace. Four weeks of online learning and a one-hour virtual live session with expert Dano Weisbord, Executive Director of Sustainability and Campus Planning at Smith College. This course is designed for your busy schedule, with four weeks of online learning and a one-hour virtual live session with faculty. Take advantage of this special introductory pricing

Smith Executive Education invites you to leverage your organization’s unique mission and function to align with the growing knowledge base for sustainability practices in the workplace. Four weeks of online learning and a one-hour virtual live session with expert Dano Weisbord, Executive Director of Sustainability and Campus Planning at Smith College. This course is designed for your busy schedule, with four weeks of online learning and a one-hour virtual live session with faculty. Take advantage of this special introductory pricing

Smith Executive Education invites you to leverage your organization’s unique mission and function to align with the growing knowledge base for sustainability practices in the workplace. Four weeks of online learning and a one-hour virtual live session with expert Dano Weisbord, Executive Director of Sustainability and Campus Planning at Smith College. This course is designed for your busy schedule, with four weeks of online learning and a one-hour virtual live session with faculty. Take advantage of this special introductory pricing

Smith Executive Education invites you to leverage your organization’s unique mission and function to align with the growing knowledge base for sustainability practices in the workplace. Four weeks of online learning and a one-hour virtual live session with expert Dano Weisbord, Executive Director of Sustainability and Campus Planning at Smith College. This course is designed for your busy schedule, with four weeks of online learning and a one-hour virtual live session with faculty. Take advantage of this special introductory pricing

Senior Planning

Take care to prepare

What was once a demographic ripple has become a full-blown wave — and it’s getting bigger.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2000, the number of adults age 65 and older was 35 million, or 12.4% of the total population. In 2016, the number of seniors had risen to 49.2 million or 15.2% of the population.

By 2030, the bureau estimates, more than 20% of U.S. residents will have passed their 65th birthdays, and by 2035, that demographic will outnumber children younger than 18 — an unprecedented swing.


View the PDF flipbook HERE

 

What does all this mean?

It means it’s time to prepare — the sooner, the better.

As the Baby Boom generation continues to march into their retirement years — at the rate of 10,000 per day — Americans are living longer than ever. But what that life will entail, post-65, can wildly vary depending on lifestyle preferences, health status, finances, and more.

The questions are myriad. What levels of care are available, and what do they include? How will I pay for all of this, especially if I, or my parents, live well past 80 or 90? How do I approach mom or dad with my concerns that they might not be able to live alone anymore? What’s an estate plan, and what documents do I need to worry about?

It’s a lot to think about, and no single guide can answer all those questions. But hopefully, this special section will sort through some of the confusion and get those conversations started.

Local Business Advice

The Wealth Technology Group

By: Gary F. Thomas, JD, LLM, CLU, ChFC, AIF, CDFA

Earlier this year I received a call from “Jen”, a concerned client. She had just learned from her older brother that her widowed, elderly mother, who lives in Rhode Island, had fallen a couple of days before and had been admitted to the hospital with broken ribs and several fractures. Even though Jen was in the regular habit of calling her mother once or twice a week, the fall occurred shortly after their last conversation and was a shock.

Jen immediately dropped what she was doing and drove to the hospital. While visiting she perceived that her mother was suffering from more than the fractures, but was also somewhat disoriented, which Jen assumed was because of medications that were administered to alleviate pain.

When asked why she was not notified of the fall immediately she was told that mother and her brother who lived nearby just “didn’t want to worry her”. Of course Jen was worried, not only about her mother’s health but also about her mother’s finances, and whether any plan was in place to prepare for the unexpected. All along she had assumed that her brother, who was a retired comptroller, had everything under control.

When Jen questioned her brother, he said that even though he had dealt with finances for his entire life, he was uncomfortable talking to Mom about money, because it was too close to home. He wasn’t sure what planning their mother had done, whether or not she had even the most basic legal documents, and if so where they were located.

“They learned that their mother, who had lost her husband more than twenty years earlier, had never updated the documents after their father’s death.”

Unfortunately, they were forced to have the difficult conversation about money with their mother while she was still in the hospital, admittedly, not an ideal time. They learned that their mother, who had lost her husband more than twenty years earlier, had never updated the documents after their father’s death. Mom said that the lawyer who had prepared them had retired long ago, and she wasn’t sure where the originals were. More than that, she was not quite certain of her banking and financial accounts because the names of the institutions had changed so many times over the years, and she found it difficult to keep track of what she owned. Mom said she had just been assuming that, because of her son’s financial background “he would take care of things” should any health or financial issues arise.

Fortunately since her accident, Mom has returned home and appointments were made for the whole family to meet with a local attorney to complete some basic estate and elder law planning. Now, both Jen and her brother have located Mom’s insurance policies, financial accounts, and credit cards, and keep track of accounts monthly. They have updated the beneficiaries on life insurance and retirement accounts, which are now set up to avoid probate. For the first time, they have a clear picture of their mother’s assets, income and expenses.

Unfortunately, many incidents like this don’t quite turn out as well. Lack of planning and lack of time can cause a financial disaster. Often costly financial decisions are made in the heat of the moment and without full knowledge of the resources available, tax consequences, or the affect of the parent’s ongoing needs.

Our advice: Broach the conversation about money after you have completed your own estate and financial plan, then share with your parents what you have done, which may make it easier to begin the conversation.

 


Gary F. Thomas

JD, LLM, CLU, ChFC, AIF, CDFA

“Because it’s not what you make … it’s what you keep!”

Gary is the President of The Wealth Technology Group, with offices in Pittsfield and Westfield. His company serves over a thousand individuals and businesses in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and across the country, helping them reduce taxes, diversify their portfolios, and keep more of what they have.

Gary is a native of Pittsfield and is a graduate of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and Western New England University Law School. He is a member of the Massachusetts Bar and holds the prestigious Master of Laws in Taxation degree from Boston University Law School. Gary is a Chartered Life Underwriter and a Chartered Financial Consultant. He is also certified as an Accredited Investment Fiduciary, having met the ethical and education standards of a prestigious network of forward-looking investment professionals dedicated to advancing fiduciary responsibility.

Gary has conducted courses on retirement planning, financial management, and estate planning at General Dynamics Corporation, Tubed Products, the Massachusetts Nurse’s Association, Plumbers and Pipefitters Locals 4 and 104, Westfield State University, Berkshire Community College and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, and has lectured financial planning and insurance professionals throughout the U.S. and internationally on best practices and customer service. He specializes in education about safe money management and the maximization of pension and Social Security benefits, so that his clients enjoy a stress-free retirement.

Gary is a member of the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Financial Planning Association, the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, and the International Association of Financial Planners; he sits on the Board of Directors of the MCLA Foundation. Last year, Gary was honored to be appointed a member of the Board of Trustees for Western New England University. He also underwrites programming for WHMP, Channel 57, and is a member of the Westfield Chamber of Commerce and the Better Business Bureau. He was chosen Outstanding Philanthropist of the Year for 2013 by the Western Mass Association of Fundraising Professionals.

Gary is a presence on local media and is sometimes called upon to comment on financial news. Every few weeks Gary also has some fun talking about financial topics with Bax & O’Brien on Rock102. His programs are available on the station websites, and are podcast on iTunes and at www.wealthtechnology.com. He has appeared nationally on Fox Business News, and has been quoted on the Forbes and CNN Money websites.

(800) 266-6793

[email protected]

www.wealthtechnology.com

Local Business Advice

The Wealth Technology Group

By: Gary F. Thomas, JD, LLM, CLU, ChFC, AIF, CDFA

A couple of weeks ago I spoke with a potential client on the phone who had recently purchased some trusts through an online service, and had questions about them. To create the trusts he spoke with an individual on the phone and filled out a short questionnaire listing his wishes, assets and beneficiaries. A short time later received the documents. He was told that the trusts would accomplish his three primary objectives:

Probate Avoidance

Estate Tax Reduction

Asset Protection

I responded that without reading the trusts carefully as well as knowing more about his current financial situation, it would be impossible for me to answer his concerns. We agreed to meet.

Bill arrived carrying a handsome, two-inch thick leatherette folio with his family name embossed in gold lettering on the cover. The binder included two trusts: a Revocable Living Trust and an Irrevocable Asset Protection Trust. Neither trust was funded. In addition, there was a “pour-over” will, designed to fund the Living Trust with probate assets at the time of Bill’s passing.

After chatting with Bill, I learned that he was seventy-three years old, and had two adult sons who were comfortable financially. Up until the creation of his trusts, he had a simple Will leaving all his assets to Martha, his wife of 40 years. She had recently passed after a lengthy illness, motivating Bill to reconsider his estate planning options.

Bill’s major assets included a sizable conservatively invested 401k which listed his children as beneficiaries. Bill’s other assets consisted of a couple of CDs, a modest checking account and a three-bedroom ranch built in the 1960s. Although Bill would be considered to be financially comfortable, his combined assets were only slightly above the one million dollar threshold for Massachusetts estate taxes, with no likelihood of approaching the Federal limits.

The trusts would not serve to avoid probate or to protect Bill’s assets. His major asset, the 401k, was already set up to avoid probate as it had named beneficiaries. As a retirement account it is protected from creditors under both Massachusetts and Federal law. Transferring his 401k to the Irrevocable Trust would necessitate cashing it out, resulting in an income tax disaster.

Bill asked what course he should take regarding the CDs and his home. He could, if he chose, transfer his CDs into either trust but as they were only a modest portion of his assets, the net effect of doing so would be marginal. And although he could transfer his home to the Irrevocable Trust in the hopes of protecting it from the high cost of long-term care, he would still be required to spend down his other assets to qualify for care.

Properly structured, drafted and funded, trusts are valuable tools for probate avoidance, asset protection and estate tax avoidance, but they are not needed by everyone. Basic estate planning documents such as a Will and a Durable Power of Attorney, with careful selection of beneficiaries plus proper insurance planning often produces the desired outcome.

Please consult a qualified professional who can assess your situation and guide you properly through your estate planning journey.

Social Security Informational Workshop: June 11, 13, 18, & 20th • 6:30 pm

Wealth Technology Conference Center – 130 Southampton Rd, Westfield, MA

 


Gary F. Thomas

JD, LLM, CLU, ChFC, AIF, CDFA

“Because it’s not what you make … it’s what you keep!”

Gary is the President of The Wealth Technology Group, with offices in Pittsfield and Westfield. His company serves over a thousand individuals and businesses in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and across the country, helping them reduce taxes, diversify their portfolios, and keep more of what they have.

Gary is a native of Pittsfield and is a graduate of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and Western New England University Law School. He is a member of the Massachusetts Bar and holds the prestigious Master of Laws in Taxation degree from Boston University Law School. Gary is a Chartered Life Underwriter and a Chartered Financial Consultant. He is also certified as an Accredited Investment Fiduciary, having met the ethical and education standards of a prestigious network of forward-looking investment professionals dedicated to advancing fiduciary responsibility.

Gary has conducted courses on retirement planning, financial management, and estate planning at General Dynamics Corporation, Tubed Products, the Massachusetts Nurse’s Association, Plumbers and Pipefitters Locals 4 and 104, Westfield State University, Berkshire Community College and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, and has lectured financial planning and insurance professionals throughout the U.S. and internationally on best practices and customer service. He specializes in education about safe money management and the maximization of pension and Social Security benefits, so that his clients enjoy a stress-free retirement.

Gary is a member of the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Financial Planning Association, the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, and the International Association of Financial Planners; he sits on the Board of Directors of the MCLA Foundation. Last year, Gary was honored to be appointed a member of the Board of Trustees for Western New England University. He also underwrites programming for WHMP, Channel 57, and is a member of the Westfield Chamber of Commerce and the Better Business Bureau. He was chosen Outstanding Philanthropist of the Year for 2013 by the Western Mass Association of Fundraising Professionals.

Gary is a presence on local media and is sometimes called upon to comment on financial news. Every few weeks Gary also has some fun talking about financial topics with Bax & O’Brien on Rock102. His programs are available on the station websites, and are podcast on iTunes and at www.wealthtechnology.com. He has appeared nationally on Fox Business News, and has been quoted on the Forbes and CNN Money websites.

(800) 266-6793

[email protected]

www.wealthtechnology.com

Accounting and Tax Planning

Looking Back — and Ahead

April 15 has come and gone, and many people are not looking back on the recent tax season with fond memories. Indeed, for many there were surprises and refunds lower than expected. One of the keys to not being surprised or disappointed is planning, as in year-round planning.

By Danielle Fitzpatrick, CPA

Many taxpayers think about taxes only once a year, and that one time is when they are filing their income-tax return. However, taxpayers should be thinking about their taxes year-round.

Many people do not consider how a change in their life may affect their taxes until they see the outcome the following year. Surprises may be avoided if they were to seek the advice of their tax professional ahead of time.

Seeking the advice of a tax professional throughout the year is very important. Certified public accountants (CPAs) who specialize in tax are not just tax preparers. CPAs can be trusted advisors who can help meet your personal wealth-creation, business-management, and financial goals.

Danielle Fitzpatrick

Danielle Fitzpatrick

The 2018 tax-filing season brought some of the biggest tax-law changes that we’ve seen in more than 30 years, and left many taxpayers surprised with their tax outcome. Perhaps you were pleasantly surprised by the additional money you received because you have children, or maybe you were one of the many who were shocked because of the reduced refunds or liability that you owed for the very first time.

If you were unhappy with the results of your 2018 tax return, you now have an opportunity to plan for the future. Review your 2018 income-tax return and determine if changes need to be made. Did you owe money for the first time because your withholdings decreased too much, or because you are now taking the standard deduction due to the loss of several itemized deductions?

Consider this — if your income and deductions were to remain relatively the same in 2019 as they were in 2018, would you be happy with your results, or do you wish they were different?

“If you were unhappy with the results of your 2018 tax return, you now have an opportunity to plan for the future.”

After you have looked at your 2018 income-tax return, you should then consider what changes may need to occur in 2019. Your tax accountant can help you determine how an expected change can impact your tax liability and try to ensure that you are safe-harbored from potential underpayment penalties.

Individuals may be subject to underpayment penalties on both their federal and state returns if they do not meet specific payment requirements each year through withholdings and/or estimated tax payments. Your accountant can also help you determine if a change in withholdings at work or through your retirement is necessary, or whether there is a need to adjust or make estimated tax payments.

These changes can help you avoid, or reduce, any potential underpayment penalties.

There are so many changes in a person’s life that could impact their tax return. Some changes include, but are not limited to, getting married or divorced, having a baby, sending a child to college, retiring, or starting a new job.

Maybe you have decided to start your own business and now are responsible for self-employment tax. Or maybe you have decided that you need to sell that rental property or second home you have had for many years. Perhaps you are a beneficiary of an estate for a loved one who passed away or have decided to sell stock through your investments. These are all examples of changes that could significantly impact your taxes.

Businesses also experience changes that could have an impact on their business returns. These changes include, but are not limited to, purchasing or selling a business, investing in a new vehicle or piece of equipment, or maybe the company has grown and you want to start providing benefits to your employees.

All the above examples could have a major impact on your individual or business income-tax returns, and that impact could be reduced if you were to reach out to a tax professional for advice before the next tax season. Besides the changes briefly mentioned above, here are two lists of questions (personal and business) that may be helpful in your next discussion with your tax professional.

First, some questions to ask your accountant in relation to your personal taxes:

• How much should I be contributing to my retirement, and which type of retirement best suits my needs?

• Am I adequately saving for my children’s education, and should I consider an education savings plan?

• Do I have adequate health, disability, and life insurance?

• When should I start taking Social Security benefits?

• When do I sign up for Medicare?

• Have I properly planned for Medicaid?

• Do I need a will, or when should my existing will be updated?

• Should I consider a living trust?

• Are my bank accounts, retirement accounts, and investment accounts set up appropriately so they avoid probate if I pass away?

• Are my withholdings and/or estimated tax payments adequate?

• When should I sell my rental property, and how much should I expect to pay in taxes?

• Can I still claim my child as a dependent even though they are no longer a full-time student?

• I’m inheriting money from a loved one who passed away; will this affect my taxes?

• I’m thinking about starting my own business; how will this impact my taxes going forward?

• My financial advisor told me I would have significant capital gains; how will this affect my tax liability?

Here are some questions to ask your accountant in relation to your business:

• What business structure is most appropriate for my circumstances?

• How do I know if my business is generating a profit?

• Am I pricing my products and services properly?

• How would my business function if my bookkeeper left tomorrow?

• What controls should I have in place to prevent employees from misusing company funds?

• Should I upgrade my accounting software?

• Do I need compiled, reviewed, or audited financial statements?

• Are my withholdings and/or estimated tax payments adequate?

• Can I claim a deduction for an office in my home?

• Should I buy a new truck or equipment before year-end?

• Should I buy or lease a vehicle?

• Should I implement a retirement plan before year-end?

• What is the overall value of my business?

• What should my exit strategy be?

• What are the tax consequences of selling my business?

Whether you are experiencing a major change in your life or want to plan for your future, do not forget to reach out to your tax professional to determine how it may affect your income taxes. u

Danielle Fitzpatrick, CPA, is a tax manager at Melanson Heath. She is part of the Commercial Services Department and is based out of the Greenfield office. Her areas of expertise include individual income taxes and planning, as well as nonprofit taxes. She also works with many businesses, helping with corporate and partnership taxes and planning

Estate Planning

Retirement-income Planning

By Greg Sheehan

Most working Americans have only one source of steady income before they retire: Their jobs. But when you retire, your income will likely come from a number of sources, such as retirement accounts, Social Security benefits, pensions, and part-time work.

When deciding how to manage your various assets to ensure a steady retirement-income stream, there are two main strategies to consider: the total-return approach and the investment pool — or bucket — approach.

The Total-return Approach

With the total-return approach, you invest your assets in a diversified portfolio of investments with varying potential for growth, stability, and liquidity. The percentage you allot to each type of investment depends on your asset allocation plan, time horizon, risk tolerance, need for income, and other goals you may have.

The objective of your investment portfolio generally changes over time, depending on how close you are to retirement.

• Accumulation phase: During this phase, your portfolio’s objective is to increase in value as much as possible, focusing on investments with growth potential.

• Approaching retirement-age phase: As you near retirement, your portfolio becomes more conservative, moving toward more stable and liquid assets in order to help preserve your earnings.

• Retirement phase: Once you retire, the idea is to withdraw from your portfolio at an even rate that allows you to enjoy a sustainable lifestyle.

A widely quoted withdrawal rate for the first year of retirement has usually been 4%. Ideally, that 4% should be equal to the amount left over after you subtract your yearly retirement income (e.g., pensions, Social Security) from your total cost of living, including investment-management fees. Each year, you will most likely increase your withdrawal percentage to keep up with inflation. Keep in mind, however, that the appropriate withdrawal rate for you will depend on your personal situation as well as the current economic environment.

The Bucket Approach

The bucket approach also begins with a diversified portfolio, following the total-return approach throughout most of the accumulation period. Then, as retirement approaches, you divide your assets into several smaller portfolios (or buckets), each with different time horizons, to target specific needs.

There is no ‘right’ number of buckets, but three is fairly common.

• The first bucket would cover the three years leading up to retirement and the two years following retirement, providing income for near-term spending. It would likely include investments that historically have been relatively stable, such as short-term bonds, CDs, money-market funds, and cash.

• The second bucket would be used in years three through nine of retirement. Designed to preserve some capital while generating retirement income, it would include more assets with growth potential, such as certain mutual funds and dividend-paying stocks.

• The third bucket, designated to provide income in year 10 and beyond, would contain investments that have the most potential for growth, such as equities, commodities, real estate, and alternatives. Although the risk profile of this bucket is typically higher than the other two, its longer time horizon can help provide a buffer for short-term volatility.

As you enter the distribution phase, you draw from these buckets sequentially, using a withdrawal rate based on your specific lifestyle goals in a particular year.

The Big Picture

Many people are familiar with the total-return approach, but the bucket approach has been gaining popularity, thanks in large part to its simplicity. It also accounts for different time periods during retirement, potentially allowing you to allocate money more effectively based on your personal situation.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of the bucket approach is that it can help provide a buffer during times of market volatility. If the value of the investments in buckets two and three fluctuates due to market conditions, your immediate cash income is coming from bucket one, which is likely to be less volatile. This may also alleviate the need to sell investments that have lost money in order to generate retirement income.

While the bucket approach has its advantages, some investors feel more comfortable using the total-return approach. The best strategy for your retirement is unique to you and your personal preferences and needs. However you choose to pursue your retirement dreams, it’s important to work with a financial professional who can help you create the most appropriate strategy based on your goals and situation.

Note that diversification does not assure against market loss, and there is no guarantee that a diversified portfolio will outperform a non-diversified portfolio. 

Greg Sheehan is an accredited investment fiduciary and partner at the Wealth Transition Collective, a Northampton-based financial-advisory and planning firm. The firm offer securities and advisory services as a registered representative and investment adviser representative of Commonwealth Financial Network, Member FINRA/SIPC, a registered investment adviser; (413) 584-1805; [email protected]

Accounting and Tax Planning

Items That Add Up

By Kathryn A. Sisson, CPA, MST

There are many changes that businesses and individuals should be aware of under The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA), the most significant tax legislation in the U.S. in more than 30 years. Here are the 10 changes that will have the most significant impact this tax season.

Individuals

1. Tax Rates. The 2018 tax brackets have changed, resulting in lower tax rates for most individuals. For example, the 15% tax bracket has been reduced to 12% and the 25% bracket to 22%.

2. Income-tax Withholding. As a result of the lower taxes rates, income-tax withholding during 2018 also decreased for most individuals. This could result in underpayment of taxes for 2018, depending on your tax situation. Taxpayers should carefully review their withholding going into 2019 and discuss it with their tax professional.

3. Itemized Deductions. TCJA made several changes to itemized deductions as noted below.

Medical Expenses: TCJA lowered the threshold for the medical-expense deduction to 7.5% of AGI for 2017 and 2018. The threshold for 2019 is 10% for most taxpayers.

State and Local Taxes: TCJA limits the deduction for state and local taxes to $10,000 per year. This includes payments for state income tax, property tax, and excise tax. The same $10,000 limit applies regardless of whether you are a single taxpayer or if you are married and file a joint return. The deduction for taxpayers who are married and filing separate returns is limited to $5,000.

Kathryn A. Sisson

Kathryn A. Sisson

Mortgage Interest: Interest is generally deductible on original home acquisition debt up to $750,000. Home-equity interest is deductible only if the funds were used to improve the mortgaged property.

Charitable Donations: Donations are generally deductible up to 60% of AGI, up from 50%, for most donations. You could also consider giving directly from your IRA if you are over age 70 1/2 or gifting appreciated stock directly to a charity. Discuss with your tax professional in order to maximize your benefit.

Miscellaneous Itemized Deductions: TCJA has eliminated miscellaneous itemized deductions. These include deductions for unreimbursed employee business expenses, tax-preparation fees, and investment-advisory fees.

4. Increased Standard Deduction. One of the most significant provisions of TCJA is the near-doubling of the standard deduction for all taxpayers. For 2018, the standard deduction amounts are $24,000 for joint filers, $18,000 for head of household, and $12,000 for all other filers. The limitations on itemized deductions as noted above and the increased standard deduction amounts may make it less advantageous to itemize deductions.

5. Personal Exemptions. TCJA eliminated personal exemptions for 2018. For 2017, taxpayers received a personal exemption deduction of $4,050 per person. Therefore, a family of four received a deduction of $16,200 in 2017 that is no longer available under the new tax act.

Businesses

6. Tax Rates. A flat tax rate of 21% replaces the graduated tax rate brackets for C corporations that ranged from 15% to 39% in prior years.

7. Qualified Business Income (QBI) Deduction. A deduction of up to 20% of business income may be available to owners of pass-through entities. There are limitations based on several factors, including income of the taxpayer as well as the type of trade or business. The purpose of the deduction is to provide some parity between the new flat 21% corporate rate and the tax rates paid by owners of pass-through entities on their individual income-tax returns.

8. Depreciation. TCJA made significant changes to encourage businesses to expand and invest in new property; 100% bonus depreciation is now available for federal purposes, and the limitation on expensing certain assets has been increased to $1 million, with a $2.5 million investment limitation.

9. Business Credits. TCJA created a Family Leave Credit for employers making family-leave payments to employees. The credit is available only to employers who have a written policy in place for the payment and credit.

10. Deductions. Previously, the deduction for meals and entertainment was limited to 50% of expenses incurred. For 2018, 50% of meals are still deductible; however, entertainment expenses are no longer deductible.

Many of these changes are significant and warrant your full attention. As you approach tax season this year, seek the assistance of tax professionals, and do not follow your neighbor’s tax advice.

Kathryn A. Sisson, CPA, MST is a tax manager in the Commercial Services Department of Melanson Heath in Greenfield. She has 20 years of experience in public accounting and has been with Melanson Heath for 10 years. She has extensive experience in corporate and individual income-tax planning and review as well as financial-statement compilations and reviews. Her corporate experience includes working with businesses doing business in multiple states. She is also a QuickBooks ProAdvisor assisting many clients with general ledger systems and software training.

Accounting and Tax Planning

2018 Tax Planning (in 2019)

By Brendan Healy, CPA

Brendan Healy

Even though we’re into 2019, there are still tax-saving opportunities available for the 2018 tax year.

This article summarizes a number of options that businesses and taxpayers should consider to help minimize their tax burden when they file their 2018 tax returns. As with any tax-savings strategy, you should discuss these post-2018 year-end planning techniques with your tax advisor before implementing them.

Retirement-plan Contributions

Although some retirement plans needed to have been in place before Dec. 31 to be used for the 2018 year, there are plans that could be set up in 2019, funded, and then used as deductions for the 2018 tax return.

A simplified employee pension (or SEP) IRA, for example, can be set up after year-end and funded up to the due date (including extensions) of the taxpayer’s business.

New Opportunity-zone Funds

The new tax law created a significant tax incentive to encourage capital investment in certain locations that need development. If you sell an asset with a large capital gain, you may be able to defer that gain if you essentially reinvest that gain into an “opportunity-zone fund” within six months of that sale. If done properly, you wouldn’t recognize the tax gain until the latter of when your new investment is sold or Dec. 31, 2026. You can also get up to 15% of the deferred gain forgiven entirely for holding the investment for specified time period. And if you held the investment for an additional 10 years, you’d pay no tax on subsequent capital gains.

Capital-expenditure Tax Writeoff

The new tax law allows businesses to write off (or expense) larger amounts of fixed-asset purchases. The new law not only applies to personal property (machinery, equipment, computers, office furniture, etc.) but also increases the ability to write off certain real-estate improvements. It also increases the amount of tax deduction available for business-owned automobiles. These capital-expense writeoff elections are made at the time you file the tax return.

State Tax Planning

If you ship product to different states or if you sell over the internet across the country, there may be state tax-planning strategies available for your business. Certain businesses can take advantage of apportioning their revenue across several states. And if they do not have to file tax returns in those states, that apportioned revenue may never be subject to state income tax.

There have been significant changes this past year in the way states are allowed to (or not allowed to) tax out-of-state shipments entering their state. You should review your state income tax plan as well as your state sales tax reporting process in light of these new and significant changes.

Tax Credits

The tax law provides certain incentives to businesses by offering tax credits. The research and experimentation tax credit, for example, allows a business to convert a dollar of deduction into a dollar of tax credit. Since tax credits reduce taxes on a dollar-for-dollar basis, a tax credit is more valuable to the business than a tax deduction. So if the business is allowed to convert an expenditure into a credit, the tax savings could be substantial.

Many businesses (such as manufacturers or software companies) are not taking advantage of this tax credit that may be available to them.

Estate Planning and Gifts During Lifetime

The new tax law significantly increases the ability for families to transfer wealth upon death as well as allowing gifts during lifetime on a tax-free basis. Although estate and gift planning can get very complicated, the limits available today (which will expire in about seven years) are substantially higher than they have been in the past and allow for great flexibility in wealth-transfer planning.

Bottom Line

Just because 2018 is over does not mean we should stop thinking about tax-planning strategies for 2018 tax returns that will be filed over the next several months.

There are many tax incentives written into the tax law to encourage business and individual taxpayers to reinvest. It is up to you to make sure you are taking advantage of every one available to you and your business.

Brenden Healy, CPA, a partner at Whittlesey, is an expert in state and federal tax matters who consults with businesses and individuals and focuses his practice on closely held businesses in the real-estate, manufacturing and distribution, and retail industries.

Holiday Party Planner

’Tis the Season

The Bellagio ballroom at MGM Springfield

The Bellagio ballroom at MGM Springfield is among the region’s newest option for parties and banquets.

Buoyed by a strong economy, these are good days for area venues that host year-end company parties — and any other type of event, really. But with so many options, it’s a competitive environment — one that has become even more so with the emergence of MGM Springfield on the scene. Yet, new players might also be boosting interest in party bookings in general, raising the fortunes of everyone who promises to bring fun and flexibility to the season’s many gatherings.

In the eight years since she opened her event-planning business, Tanya Costigan has seen plenty of changes in corporate party planning. In fact, launching her enterprise, Tanya Costigan Events, at the tail end of the Great Recession was a challenge in itself.

“There was definitely a downshift in the year-end parties, but I do feel like they are picking up a bit,” she told BusinessWest. “I think part of it has to do with some of the new venues that are here, like GreatHorse and MGM; these heavy hitters are playing a role in getting people excited. A friend of mine was looking elsewhere, and is now thinking about a client-appreciation event at MGM next month. So I think it’s triggering some excitement in the industry in general.”

Anthony Caratozzolo is certainly excited. As vice president of food and beverage at MGM Springfield, he’s been pleased with early bookings in the casino resort’s banquet space, which encompasses the Aria and Bellagio ballrooms and can host groups from 15 to 540 people.

“Each of the ballrooms comes fully themed out with holiday décor, and we have different menus to accommodate different groups,” he said. “If they want a more reception-style event, we can accommodate that. If they want a lunch or sit-down dinner, we can do a custom menu for that. We’re very versatile. All of our ballrooms can be broken into smaller rooms to accommodate smaller parties at the same time. Most places can’t accommodate different groups as well as we can.”

As an integrated resort, MGM arrived on the scene with the aim of raising the bar for entertainment and events of all kinds, including holiday parties, because attendees can move right from a party to the casino floor, the Commonwealth Bar and Lounge, a movie, bowling, ice skating, or shopping — not to mention staying overnight at the hotel.

Tanya Costigan

Tanya Costigan said she enjoys helping clients hone their vision for a broad range of parties and other events.

“Clients can also book extracurricular activities,” he said. “If they want a suite at Topgolf or want to go bowling, they can book all that with the catering manager. They just have to figure out what they want to do with their night.”

Like other event organizers who have spoken with BusinessWest leading up to the holiday season in previous years, Caratozzolo has seen a healthy mix of party requests.

“Every group is different. Some of the companies have been around a long time and tend to enjoy a formal, sit-down dinner, while the younger generations may enjoy a reception style — and both of these are built into our catering package,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of inquiries, and we’ve had some bookings.”

At a time when businesses seem to be investing in holiday parties, MGM offers another high-profile option that, at the very least, has people talking about how they want to celebrate the season and thank their employees.

Planning for Fun

Costigan told BusinessWest that sometimes a venue brings her in to plan an event, while other times the client hires her, and she might help choose the location. Describing her job as “planning, design, and management,” she has a role to play from the initial idea through the big day, helping everything run smoothly.

“I do everything from birthday parties and weddings to holiday parties,” she noted, with recent events including Square One’s annual tea party at the Starting Gate at GreatHorse, and the Link to Libraries gala at the Log Cabin.

“I might be doing the design, the planning … there’s a wide scope of things I do,” she said, noting, as Caratozzolo did, that clients are calling for a range of styles when it comes to social gatherings.

“It does vary, but I find that a lot of the people are going for the stand-up, cocktail-hour feel, with passed apps and drinks. Sometimes they do a fun, themed signature drink. And sometimes the holiday parties are not necessarily Christmas-related — I had someone do a year-end party that had the feel of a street carnival, but it was inside the venue. It’s not always winter-themed.”

Anthony Caratozzolo

Anthony Caratozzolo says many venerable companies still prefer formal sit-down dinners, while younger clients tend to opt for reception-style events.

Reasons for holiday parties vary as well, Costigan added. “I find a lot of them are for client appreciation, but, for example, I did the Keller Williams holiday party, and it was all of their different branches coming together and having a fun party. So I think sometimes it’s a bonding thing for the employees.”

Bistro 63 in Amherst has become a popular event site for area colleges and businesses, Event Manager Alyssa Blumenthal said. Business tends to pick up starting in October, not only with the approaching holidays, but because it tends to be a hot season for convention business — and those events tend to spur further bookings. “The end of October is the busiest time of year to receive holiday party bookings. We also get a lot of reunions this time of the year — high school and college.”

Because it easily transforms from a banquet space to a nightclub — often during the same event — many business owners in the area recognize it as a place where they can complement their party with an evening of dancing as well.

“That’s been fantastic; we’ve really been working on training the staff to cross-sell services,” Blumenthal said.

Bistro 63 is also known for its elaborate — and creative — cocktail program. In addition to a rotating list of custom cocktails, the venue creates unique concoctions for specific events. For example, attendees of the International Conference on Soils, Sediments, Water and Energy at UMass Amherst, which books an event at Bistro 63 each year, recently enjoyed a ‘sediment sour,’ which was made to look like dirt garnished with rosemary.

“The soil convention group is all middle-aged men, 40s and 50s, who come up to the bar with a smirk on their face, asking, ‘what smart-aleck cocktail do you have for us this year?’ And I’ll get them to try these ridiculously frilly drinks,” Blumenthal said. “We try to have fun with our events because so many people do associate us with the nightclub.”

Caratozzolo agreed that fun should be at the heart of any party.

“MGM is all about entertainment — that’s what we do, whether it’s an elaborate party or just a small get-together,” he said. “That’s what we’re good at, what we love to do; we work with clients to find out what they want. At the end of the day, they’re our guests, and every group is different.

“We’ve had large conventions, we’ve had expositions, we just booked our first wedding about two weeks ago, and we have small association groups — maybe bridge clubs or chamber events,” he went on. “We have all the capabilities to really do anything, because we’re MGM. We can open a lot of doors.”

Reasons to Party

Likewise, Bistro 63 hosts parties of all types — holiday events, corporate dinners, cocktail parties, rehearsal dinners, reunions, and more — ranging from small gatherings to large events up to 240 people. A large room can be divided into smaller spaces, including a covered deck outside.

“Last year we had the highest number of rehearsal dinners booked, and we’re super excited to continue that trend,” Blumenthal said. Also on the rise are companies hosting recruitment and networking events for students at the Five Colleges.

“We’ve hosted Google, PwC, Newell Brands, and some other regional corporations, as well as a handful school-sponsored events this year,” she added. “More than half our staff are students — UMass, mostly — and we love hosting these events because it speaks to the strength of the academic programs in the area, and it has directly resulted in increased business for our establishment.”

But holiday parties, too, have been on the rise, with bookings increasing each year as the economy continues to chug along, she told BusinessWest.

“Many companies had annual gatherings and stopped doing it for budgetary reasons, and have since put it back in the budget,” she noted, adding that Bistro 63 markets its flexibility and quick turnaround times to plan events — and that has become a key element in its growth.

Alyssa Blumenthal says being flexible and nimble with turnaround times

Alyssa Blumenthal says being flexible and nimble with turnaround times can lead to bookings that later become repeat customers.

“Those short-notice events have lots of times turned into annual events for us. Clients say, ‘maybe we do have the budget for a small dinner for our core team,’ then it goes really well, we provide service better than they expected, and they come back year after year.”

Costigan enjoys those success stories, too, like the recent Square One tea, which boasted a vintage golf theme.

“I love the design part. The planning and management are great, but the design is my favorite part,” she said, recalling the reaction of Kristine Allard, Square One’s chief development and communication officer, to Costigan’s initial designs for the event.

“When she saw my design board for what vintage golf means to me, she said, ‘oh my God, you climbed right into my head.’ It was amazing. I love that part — as well as installing the whole design, when they’re like, ‘this is great.’”

It’s a reaction any event planner or venue hopes for, when it comes to holiday parties or any other event — because it’s those reactions that keep businesses coming back, year after memorable year.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]