Residents in Anson will consider changing the position of tax collector from an appointed position to an elected one on Tuesday.

The referendum follows the discovery of more than $400,000 in missing excise tax money at the town office, but town officials have said it is a change they have been considering since before former Tax Collector Claudia Viles’ recent indictment on 13 tax-fraud related charges.

Polls in Anson are open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Tuesday at the Anson Town Office.

“I think it’s become a professional position that needs to be a person that can be vetted by the Board of Selectmen,” said Board of Selectmen Chairman Arnold Luce. “In today’s world with all the money that’s going through there, you need checks and balances.”

Several surrounding communities already appoint their tax collectors and officials, and others that have considered such a change say that the appointment provides more oversight and continuity. Yet in some places it has been rejected by voters who argue that the change gives them less say in local government.

Viles, who served as tax collector for 42 years and has denied the charges against her, has said that she does not support changing the position to an appointed one.

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

Aside from tax collector and board of selectmen, the only elected positions in Anson are for the boards of the local water and sanitary districts.

In nearby New Sharon, voters were asked at a special town meeting in August to consider changing the position of tax collector to an appointed one, but they defeated the proposal.

“Voters did not want to give up control over choosing their own clerk and tax collector,” said Chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen Lorna Nichols. “I think the current board wanted the change so we could provide continuity for those positions.”

In New Sharon, as in Anson, tax collector is a one-year position. “So when someone gets the position, they are really only employed for one year because the townspeople could not elect them the next year,” Nichols said. “In terms of job security, I mean if you have to go for a mortgage or a car loan or anything like that, it’s obviously much more difficult.

“We were looking to make it better for the person in that position.”

Many towns do appoint their tax collectors, including Bingham and Moscow, which have both made the change in recent years.

“With an appointed position the town has the chance to review the credentials of a person,” said Bingham First Selectman Steve Steward. “We thought it would be good for the town to know who you’re hiring.”

In Moscow, First Selectman Donald Beane said the town was left with no tax collector in 2008 when Patricia Pooler, who held the job for more than 43 years, died unexpectedly.

“There’s a lot to the job, and we had to get someone to come in in an emergency situation,” Beane said. “We decided it would be better to appoint someone.”

The only requirements for a municipal tax collector in state statute is that the person is a U.S. citizen, resident of Maine and 18 years of age or older, according to the Maine Municipal Association. Tax collectors are also required to be bonded by an insurance company.

That requirement eventually led to Viles’ resignation in Anson after the Maine Municipal Association, which insures the town, said it would not provide bonding for Viles because of the 13-count indictment against her.

Viles was paid based on the amount of taxes and fees she collected, and if the position changes to an appointed one, the salary will also change, according to Luce, who said an appointed tax collector will make an hourly salary. A large cost difference associated with appointing a tax collector is not expected, he said.

In Norridgewock, the job of tax collector is appointed, and residents have been asked several times to consider making other town office jobs appointed.

Town Manager Michelle Flewelling said the first time residents considered changes to the positions of town clerk and treasurer was around 2007 in the case of an employee who was also an elected official. Employees at the town office in Norridgewock are unionized, and union rules prohibit employees from performing the duties of an elected official at the same time, Flewelling said.

“By having it be appointed, the two jobs could be merged in one 40-hour week union job,” she said.

The issue also came up in 2008 after then town clerk and treasurer Charlotte Curtis was caught purposely not recording sewer liens at the town office. Voters at the 2008 town meeting rejected a proposal to make the two jobs appointed by a vote of 39-28 and rejected the proposal for treasurer again at the 2009 meeting by a vote of 84-80. The issue was also brought up and rejected at the 2010 town meeting and in a 2012 referendum.

“The advantage to appointment is that there’s oversight,” Flewelling said. “When you’re an elected official, you work for the town as a whole, so if you’re not performing your job, the only recall the town has, unless they have a recall ordinance, is not to re-elect you.”

Appointed employees report directly to other town officials, such as a town manager or board of selectmen. “If the job isn’t being performed properly, you can get someone in there who will do it properly,” Flewelling said. “There’s a higher level of accountability for an individual, I think, who is appointed rather than elected.”

Maine law does provide a recall ordinance for municipal officials who are convicted of a crime while in office, but there is no other recourse for a town that is unhappy with the performance of an elected official unless the town has its own recall ordinance, something voters in Anson will also consider on Tuesday.

Luce said he hopes there will be a good turnout on Tuesday. “That’s why we wanted to set it up as a referendum rather than hold a vote at a special town meeting,” he said. “It gives people a better chance with absentee ballots and all-day voting to really let us know what they want done.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm


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