ANSON — Town records show that former Tax Collector Claudia Viles, who’s accused of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars in tax money, was paid randomly and there was little oversight of the amount of money she requested from town officials and when she received it.

Viles, who resigned after she was indicted last month, earned an annual salary that ranged from $30,000 and $40,000 each year over the last 10 years, according to a list of invoices provided by the town.

She also set her own hours and vacation time, only worked four days per week and was responsible for collecting a portion of her salary on her own.

Viles recently pleaded not guilty to 13 criminal charges related to tax fraud and is facing a civil lawsuit in which the town has accused her of taking more than $400,000 in tax money over the last four years.

The allegations have prompted officials to ask voters to consider changing the position from an elective one to an appointive one in November, a move that would give the town more control over the position. Officials say she was allowed so much leeway, and then couldn’t be put on leave when the money’s absence was first discovered, because she was an elected official.

Viles, who previously has not spoken publicly about the accusations against her, said Friday that the position should remain an elective one.

“I would hope that residents protect their voice in local government,” she said.

Chairman of the Board of Selectmen Arnold Luce said the change would provide not only more oversight when it comes to collecting and depositing residents’ money, but also more oversight of the position, including regular hours and a regular pay schedule.

“I think if you had someone appointed, you would have a better handle on their hours and what their pay was and everything would come through the town,” Luce said Friday. “I think you’ll have an office where people can go and, during the 40 hours the office is open each week, go and do your business because there will be someone there who can take care of it.”

AN UNUSUAL FORMULA

Information on Viles’ earnings was released to the Morning Sentinel after a public hearing last month in which several residents asked what Viles’ salary was, and selectmen said they didn’t know. The town initially declined to release information on Viles’ pay, citing the ongoing criminal investigation, but then turned over the invoice list of payments on Friday.

Viles was supposed to be paid 1.5 percent of total property tax collected, as long as it did not exceed $28,000; 3 percent of the excise tax; and agent fees from excise taxes.

The formula was one that Viles presented to voters each year at Town Meeting for approval.

Agent fees are $3 for a renewed registration and $4 for a new registration.

Alexander Willette, director of legislative affairs and communications for Maine Revenue Services, said payment for tax collectors is determined by each town, but he had never heard of a formula like Anson’s.

Luce agreed. “I’m not sure there’s another town that does that,” he said. “That was something that she did, you know, way back, and just carried through. It’s something the town has done, I don’t know how long, maybe 100 years.”

Administrative Assistant Tammy Murray, who was appointed tax collector in Anson after Viles’ resignation Sept. 10, said she has heard of other towns paying their tax collectors based on percentages.

Murray was tax collector in neighboring Madison for 13 years and was paid weekly through the town’s payroll.

According to town records, Viles received on average $30,000 to $40,000 per year in checks from the town. That included the excise tax and property tax percentages, but not the agent fees, Murray said.

In 2014, the motor vehicle agent fees totaled $1,823, according to the town report. All-terrain vehicle, boat and snowmobile agent fees totaled $80.

Viles kept those fees as she collected them and submitted invoices to the town at other times of the year for the percentages she said she was owed of property and excise taxes.

When and how the invoices were submitted and paid has varied over the last decade. Luce said Viles was “paid randomly,” and while other town employees were paid on a regular weekly or biweekly schedule, she would submit an invoice to the town at random times.

“I think the fees she took, she kept track of those; and when she needed or wanted, she would put a bill in and we would pay it,” he said. “I’m not exactly sure of that, but that’s what I think. It doesn’t follow any pattern.”

PAYMENT METHOD

In January, the town contacted the group Purdy Powers & Co. to perform an audit, the results of which were shared with residents at the Town Meeting in March. The audit confirmed that $76,686 was missing from the town accounts in 2014. Town administrative assistant Triss Smith reported the possible theft to police.

In late April, Maine State Police seized $58,500 in cash from Viles’ home. A police affidavit supporting the search warrant alleged that Viles had the opportunity to take money when residents came to the town office to pay excise tax on newly registered vehicles. After transferring the registration fees to the state, she allegedly could keep a portion of the money paid and provide the town treasurer with what was left over.

Viles also has a history of holding on to checks and cashing them quarterly, a practice that Smith said was frustrating for many residents and prompted them to pay in cash, according to the affidavit. In March, a review of how Viles processed excise tax payments revealed that she was not recording the right numbers even though she appeared to understand how to do the job correctly, the document claimed.

According to the newly released invoice documents, Viles in 2012 was paid just twice. She received checks for $1,905 and for $25,174 in January of that year and was not paid again until January 2013, according to the records.

Murray said it seemed that Viles might have received her percentage of property taxes early in the year, since they are generally collected in the fall and would become available in the winter. Excise taxes are collected throughout the year.

In 2014, after the town switched to a new computer system to collect taxes, Viles was paid more frequently. She received 12 checks in 2014 and has received 19 checks so far in 2015.

She has been paid $45,325 to date this year, though some of that money is for reimbursements for items such as stamps that Murray said she bought by paying out of her own pocket.

Viles did not work full time at the Town Office and Luce said he was not sure what her hours were. He said she did not work Mondays and also set her own vacation time. He said Viles was responsible for her schedule and how much she was to be paid because she was an elected official. The only elective positions in the town besides tax collector are those of the Board of Selectmen, the school board and sanitary district trustees, and they do not earn salaries.

The Board of Selectmen, for example, is paid a stipend in one lump sum at the end of the year. Luce said that as chairman, he makes $1,250 and the other members receive $1,000. School board members are paid a small amount by the school district.

ELECT OR APPOINT?

“Probably looking back, there should have been more oversight,” Luce said. “Years ago we tried to make the job appointed and the people resoundingly wanted to keep her elected.”

If voters agree to let the board appoint a tax collector, that person will make an hourly salary.

The salary for the tax collector would probably be less than what Viles was paid by the town, but it would include benefits, which Viles did not get. The change would also made it necessary for the town to hire an additional person, since the board also plans to hire a deputy tax collector.

The cost difference associated with the change is irrelevant, Luce said, because the change is more about making the Town Office operate in a more efficient way.

“Nobody is going to be doing just (tax collecting),” Luce said. “Tammy is the administrative assistant right now, and we appointed her tax collector. She’s the town clerk; she’s the elections officer. There’s a lot of titles and they all add up to a salary. Even the deputy is going to be doing other things. There isn’t going to be anyone hired to just be a tax collector.”

Luce said hiring people who have more duties than just collecting taxes helps round out the Town Office and makes it possible for residents still to conduct their business when one person is on vacation or out of the office.

“Anybody that wants to come in and do town business between 8 and 4 is going to be able to do it,” he said. “They’re not going to be told, ‘Oh, the tax collector is on vacation, so you have to come back tomorrow.’ To me it really rounds out the office.”

An appointed tax collector would fall under the town’s personnel policies and would have to earn weeks of vacation based on longevity.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm