PALERMO — Town Meeting voters started implementing recommended changes for the Town Office Saturday.

In a series of votes, they changed the positions of tax collector, treasurer and town clerk from elected to appointed; authorized selectmen to develop and enforce personnel policies covering elected officials; authorized selectmen to set salaries for all town positions, within the annual budget approved at Town Meeting; and approved the lower of two recommendations for 2012 municipal wages, about $18,000 below 2011 expenditures.

Throughout the hour-long debate on Town Office issues, there were frequent references to last year’s Compensation Committee, whose report included the recommendations for reduced staffing and costs.
The debate was polite and to the point, but occasional remarks showed underlying strains

Compensation Committee member Donald Barrett insisted committee discussions were never personal, but always about personnel.

Town Clerk Sheila McCarty, whose position will become appointive when her term ends in 2014, disagreed, saying, “It was all personal. It was not handled in a professional manner.”

Resident and town auditor Vernice Evasius supported appointment of town officials.  Palermo has no problems, she said, but she could name other towns in which officials committed theft. Since Palermo has no provision for recalling elected officials, an elected treasurer, tax collector or clerk who was a thief could not be removed from office, she said. 

At McCarty’s request, moderator Richard Thompson called for a written ballot vote on the proposed change. He announced that 51 voters favored it and 38 were opposed.

Selectman Harry Dean Potter explained that the new authorization to develop personnel policies applies only to elected officials because selectmen already have authority to implement policies for appointed and hired positions.

The $112,920 for municipal wages, recommended by the Budget Committee, is intended to fund the current four Town Office staff positions through the end of June and three positions thereafter.

The Compensation Committee recommended a gradual reduction to two full-time positions and one part-time position.

All other warrant articles except one were approved, two with changes:

• After the usual debates, donations to out-of-town social service agencies were adjusted to appropriate $12,459, instead of the $13,279 requested, with seven agencies denied funding and one request cut in half.

• Voters added $20,000 to the road account, bringing the total to $340,000, to provide matching money for a just-confirmed $80,000 grant.

On Potter’s recommendation, voters took no action on the article asking them to increase the property tax levy limit established by state law. Potter said the amount needed from taxation to fund the day’s decisions was well below the limit, especially after the vote to use $100,000 from undesignated fund balance to lower the tax rate.

In Friday’s local elections, voters chose Holly Harmon as the new member of the Board of Selectmen and Angela Nelson as town treasurer.

Harmon received 143 votes to Simeon Blake Brown’s 114 and Robert Temple’s 20.  She succeeds Sophia Glidden, who did not seek re-election.

Nelson defeated incumbent treasurer Contessa Mancini by 176 votes to 97 votes.

Scott Childs was re-elected road commissioner with 251 votes, and William Sugg received 232 votes to become a member of the Sheepscot Valley Regional School Unit board.

For general assistance administrator, incumbent Ellen Snowden Hatch received six write-in votes and will serve again.

At Saturday’s open meeting, six Budget Committee members were re-elected and Megan Childs was elected to replace Harmon.

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