PARIS — Members of the Oxford County budget committee expressed differing opinions Tuesday on a proposal to change the county treasurer from an elected to an appointed position, but decided against taking a stance on the question.
Seven of the nine committee members, who are selectmen from different towns, attended the meeting. They voted 6-0 with one member abstaining to make no recommendation on the question. It will be put to a countywide referendum in June. The vote also says members support the commissioners putting the matter to a public vote and sending it to the committee for review, which the committee did Tuesday.
The commissioners voted 2-0 with one abstention to see if voters will approve changing the county treasurer from an elected position to one appointed by the commissioners, a switch allowed by state law. Last month, the commissioners adopted a statement in support of the measure, saying the retirement of 13-year treasurer Mary Ann Prue presented an opportunity to review the structure of the treasurer’s office.
County administrator Scott Cole has said the treasurer’s position, which costs about $20,000 a year in salary and benefits, could be eliminated and financial duties delegated to the two full-time and one part-time staffers in the treasurer’s office. The commissioners’ statement says the change will allow administrative efficiency and cost savings.
“We’ve got to start somewhere,” said Commissioner David Duguay. “Right now it is legal to put this out and let the voters decide what they want.”
Roy Gedat, who was appointed by the Oxford County Democrats to take Prue’s place through to the end of the year and is running for the position this November, has criticized the proposal as politically motivated. He said Tuesday that he believes the work can be done in a nonpartisan way, but that extensive work is needed to review the county’s finances and determine controls that may be put into place.
Gedat said none of the elected county positions have a set requirement of how many hours the person must work. He said the treasurer’s base salary is $12,000, and he expects that he will work nine to 15 hours per week to perform the office’s duties.
Frances Head of Gilead asked how the pay scale for an appointed position would be set.
Commissioner Steve Merrill said the position’s salary would be comparable to the Register of Deeds or Register of Probate positions.
When Head asked if this would result in the treasurer’s salary being higher than it currently is, since the deeds and probate positions are paid higher salaries, Merrill said it would be fitted to the situation.
In a letter to the commissioners, Robert Heard of Porter said he felt the elected treasurer’s position offered a “check and balance” on the county structure and should not be changed without thorough discussion. Russell Newcomb of Norway said he felt the county should begin a charter commission to look at other changes that might occur in the county government.
“I contend that there’s probably a lot of other places in the county that could be run more efficiently,” he said.
Robert Everett of Bethel said an appointed treasurer would be accountable to the commissioners. He said he supports the election process but feels an elected treasurer is not made accountable to anyone.
“You can get conscientious people who come in and want to do the job, and you can get people who want the paycheck,” he said.
Merrill said the process of creating a county charter takes an estimated two to three years, and the commissioners intended to start one but were held up by issues related to the change of the Oxford County Jail’s status. He said he is confident in Gedat due to his experience, but that an appointed treasurer would allow the commissioners to ensure that a person would have the skills necessary for the job.
“I think it would be nice if we had some say over who sits in that chair,” he said.
Commissioner Caldwell Jackson, who abstained from the vote to put the issue to a referendum question, said he supported the concept. He said he did not participate in the vote because he believed the question should have been put off for two years due to the election scheduled this year.
The referendum question will include a note of the commissioners’ support, and the matter was sent to the budget committee to receive their input due to a similar procedure in the preparation of municipal budgets. Some committee members said they felt the issue related more to the operation of the county government than its budget.