BENTON — Town officials are proposing to change the town clerk and tax collector jobs from elective to appointive positions in an effort to make sure qualified people are working at the Town Office.

“It’s not a position we feel you can come off the street and do, or do well. You need a lot of training and experience,” Selectwoman Melissa Patterson said on Tuesday. “Just someone elected by a popularity vote would not have the skills people need for the job.”

The proposal will be presented to voters March 12 at Town Meeting. If the change is approved, Benton would follow many other small towns that have changed town administrative positions from elective to appointive in recent years.

Benton now elects a town clerk for a three-year term and the town treasurer and tax collector for one-year terms. If voters pass the proposal, selectmen would make permanent appointments to the positions starting in 2017.

Town Clerk Susan Rodrigue was appointed to the position to finish out the term of former clerk Patrick Turlo, who stepped down in December 2014.

Rodrigue is up for re-election this in March, even though she is not a Benton resident. Treasurer and Tax Collector Rick Lawrence is also up for re-election. Neither of the positions require town residency, Patterson said.

Salaries for the two jobs would not change if they become appointive, Patterson added. The town clerk receives a $800 stipend plus $21 per hour, up to a maximum of $10,500 a year. The tax collector is paid $14,500.

A town clerk is responsible for keeping records and organizing elections, and the tax collector and treasurer is mandated to manage town finances.

In many towns in Maine, positions such as town clerk, tax collector and road commissioner are still elective.

Benton voters at Town Meeting in 2007 approved changing the town clerk’s job to an appointive position, but the town reversed that vote at a ballot referendum later that year.

Some towns have proposed changes to how town officials are selected, with varied results.

Last year Anson changed its tax collector’s job from elective to appointive after longtime Tax Collector Claudia Viles was accused of stealing more than $438,000 in excise taxes from the town, and Skowhegan officials are contemplating a proposal to appoint town’s road commissioner, tax collector and clerk.

But in other places, voters have rejected the proposals on the grounds that it would be a loss of local control. New Sharon voters firmly rejected a proposal to switch to appointed clerks and tax collectors at a special town meeting in August because they didn’t want to give up their power to choose elected officials.

Patterson hopes voters in Benton will be willing to make the change now and help modernize Town Office administration.

“We need to move forward with the times and really look out for our residents and what is best for them,” she said.

Aside from tax collector and town clerk, voters also will elect candidates for a seat on the Board of Selectmen, road commissioner and a school board member in a ballot election March 11. Nomination papers are available at the Town Office and are due back Tuesday.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire

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