ANSON — Residents expressed their frustration with a lack of oversight in the tax collection process, and some said they would support changing the position of tax collector to an appointive one Tuesday night.

There were also many questions at the public hearing at Garret Schenck Elementary School, which was called to discuss the tax collector position and also a proposed recall ordinance. About 40 people attended the hearing.

Both proposals follow the recent indictment of former Tax Collector Claudia Viles, whom the town has accused in a civil lawsuit of taking $438,712 in excise tax funds from the Anson Town Office. Viles resigned Sept. 10 and a new tax collector and deputy tax collector have since been appointed by the Board of Selectmen.

The two proposals discussed Tuesday night are scheduled to be voted on in a referendum Nov. 3. They include the changing of the tax collector position from an elective one to an appointive one and a recall ordinance, which would allow for the recall of elected officials, which includes the Board of Selectmen, trustees of the water and sewer districts and the tax collector.

Many comments and questions Tuesday night made reference to Viles’ indictment and the lawsuit against her. A Somerset County grand jury handed down the indictment last month after an investigation by the Office of the Maine Attorney General.

“When you’re dealing with millions of dollars, you have to have oversight,” resident Rainbow Cornelia said. “This town is lacking in oversight. How can you, the Board of Selectmen, make me trust you to decide on who to appoint as tax collector? You obviously haven’t done a very good job, because the taxpayers are going to be paying for this.”

John Brynt, vice chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said the board did not have oversight over Viles because she was elected. “That’s why we want to make this an appointed position,” he said, “so we have that authority.”

Several residents also asked how much money Viles was paid as tax collector and what the difference in cost would be to the town to appoint a tax collector.

The Board did not have an exact figure for Viles’ salary last year, but Chairman Arnold Luce said it was in the $40,000 range.

There is no set salary for tax collector, but rather the salary is based on taxes that are collected. It is made up of 1.5 percent of the total tax commitment, 3 percent of excise taxes and additional agent fees.

Luce said after the meeting that he did not think there would be a big cost difference in appointing a tax collector versus electing one. However, the board does plan to hire a deputy tax collector in addition to the regular tax collector if the position becomes appointive.

As elected tax collector, it was up to Viles to hire a deputy, and for the last few years she did not have one.

One resident, Patty Hayward, asked how the town had failed to notice deficits in the amount of excise taxes that had been deposited while Viles was in office. The $438,712 figure was revealed only after an audit of the last four years of excise tax records. The investigation was prompted when former Administrative Assistant Triss Smith noticed a roughly $77,000 difference in the amount of money deposited in excise taxes in 2014 and the amount collected.

Tammy Murray, who is the town’s administrative assistant, said part of the problem was that Viles was often the only person to handle tax money as it was collected and deposit it. The town also installed a new computer system in 2014 that abolished the use of handwritten receipts for excise taxes, she said.

Murray, whom the board appointed tax collector after Viles’ resignation, said deposits now are being made daily and that all deposits are counted by three people in the Town Office before being deposited.

Dodie Dillon, another resident, said Viles was known for holding on to checks and not depositing them for more than a month, a practice that prompted many residents to pay for motor vehicle registrations in cash.

“I brought this up at a town meeting years ago and it was not addressed,” she said. “There were checks that were never deposited for a month. I think the board could have strongly suggested to Claudia that the money be put in the bank at least monthly.”

Other residents asked to be allowed to participate in the hiring process for a tax collector, should the job become an appointed one.

“I am leaning towards voting to appoint a tax collector, but it would help my conscience to know that residents could have some say in the process,” Rochelle Roelofs told the board. “I want to be able to trust you and know that you are open to other residents’ input.”

The board said a committee could be a consideration, although the appointment by law ultimately would have to be made by them.

The hearing lasted about an hour, with most of the discussion focused on the tax collector’s position. With regard to the recall ordinance, resident Ellen McQuiston said, “I think it would help provide additional oversight that we never had before. If there is a question about anything, it could help us remove the person.”

At one point toward the end of the meeting, Bryant, the vice chairman, stood up and said he wanted to give credit to Triss Smith, the former administrative assistant who first noticed that money was missing. Smith resigned from the job in May, and at the time she would not comment on why she was leaving the job after just one year in the Anson Town Office.

“She was treated so poorly by people in the Town Office. We (the Board of Selectmen) knew it was going on and we let it happen,” Bryant said. “I’m more ashamed of that than anything, even the missing money.”

He said the culture in the Town Office was the reason Smith resigned from the job.

Smith could not be reached for comment late Tuesday.

“We owe her a great deal because she found the problem,” Bryant said.

In an arraignment last week, Viles pleaded not guilty to the 13 charges against her, which include theft, tampering with public documents, five counts of failure to file or pay state income taxes and six counts of failure to make or file state income tax returns. She also has filed paperwork in Somerset County Superior Court denying the town’s accusations that she stole the money.

Many residents who spoke at Tuesday night’s meeting accused Viles of taking the money.

“It’s a small town,” said resident Mary H. Shorey. “People don’t even like to have suspicions. It’s hard to live with the idea. When you have so much faith in a person, it’s a reflection on all of us who trusted them. We feel betrayed, even if she didn’t do it, and she can’t explain where the money is.”

She added that since Viles was charged, residents are starting to question local officials more.

“In a way it’s a blessing in disguise,” she said. “More people are coming to meetings because they come when they see a problem. No one was worried about Claudia before because to the outside it looked like she was doing a fine job.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm

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