PROSPECT — The people who work at Prospect Town Hall are “family,” Mayor Robert J. Chatfield says.
“People on the outside. People that don’t work in Town Hall don’t understand when I tell you the Town Hall is family. They don’t understand that,” Chatfield said in a somber tone as he leaned back in his chair in his office Wednesday morning.
The town is mourning the loss of one of its family members. Diane M. Lauber, Prospect’s longtime tax collector, died May 23 after a long battle with cancer at the age of 59.
“She’s a loved individual. She’s got a big family. She’s going to truly be missed,” said Town Council Chairman Jeffrey Slapikas, who called Lauber “irreplaceable.”
Lauber, a Republican and a staple of the Prospect Republican Town Committee, served as tax collector for the past 30 years, succeeding her father Lucien Fortier in the office.
“She was very proud to follow in her father’s footsteps,” said William Lauber III, her son and chief of the Prospect Volunteer Fire Department. “She loved it. She loved representing the town.”
The tax collector is an elected position in town, and Lauber’s popularity was evident. Oftentimes she would receive the most votes on the Republican ballot, even more than Chatfield himself, a Republican who has held the mayor’s seat since 1977.
“We had fun about that,” said Chatfield, who called Lauber one of his “most trusted advisers.”
Officials described Lauber as a stickler in the way she ran her office who was adamant about collecting back taxes and good at her job — collecting 98 to 99 percent of taxes due. She was a member of the Connecticut Tax Collectors Association, the New Haven County Tax Collectors Association and Northeast Regional Tax Collectors Association, and someone area tax collectors leaned upon for advice.
She had a bubbly and happy personality, Chatfield said, adding that Lauber had a calming effect on those who came into her office and was willing to work with anyone.
“They knew when they went into that office that she would do everything they could for them if they were having difficult times,” Chatfield said.
“She worked with every individual that had a hard time,” Slapikas added. “She tried her best to help everybody out. She was always there when you needed her.”
Lauber said his mother understood what it meant to be an elected official.
“She worked for the people of Prospect,” Lauber said. “She didn’t work for the Town of Prospect. She worked for the people of Prospect.”
Calling hours for Lauber are Thursday from 4 to 8 p.m. at Prospect Memorial Funeral Home, 72 Waterbury Road. A Mass of Christian Burial is Friday at 9:30 a.m. at St. Anthony Church, 4 Union City Road. Burial will follow in Prospect Cemetery.
Town Hall will be closed on Friday, and the American flag flown at half-staff until June 23.
“On behalf of the town and all of its citizens, I offer my deepest sympathies to the entire Lauber and Fortier families,” Chatfield said.
Ann Marie Burr, the assistant tax collector, has been named acting tax collector. The Town Council is expected to officially appoint her tax collector at its June 18 meeting.
Lauber said he can tell his mother touched the lives of a lot of people by the outpouring of support his family has received from the community.
“I know that she meant a lot to the town and she’s going to be missed,” he said.