PARIS — The Oxford County commissioners adopted a statement Tuesday in support of their proposal to change the county treasurer from an elected to an appointed position.
The panel proposed making the change, which is allowed under a 1989 statute, after the resignation of 13-year treasurer Mary Ann Prue effective March 1. The Oxford County Democrats subsequently appointed Roy Gedat, a former director of the Child Health Center and the only candidate for the position in the November election, to complete the remainder of Prue’s term through the end of the year.
County residents will decide whether to make the switch at the June 8 referendum vote.
The statement says the discussion on the issue came about as a result of Prue’s resignation due to her relocation out of the county. It says the question was placed on the ballot because the seat had become open and “its elimination would have the least impact on potential candidates and their campaigns.”
County Administrator Scott Cole said there are two full-time workers in the treasury, with another worker who divides her time between the treasury and probate office. He said the treasurer position, which costs approximately $20,000 in salary and benefits, could be eliminated if the change is made.
“One could argue that what the position is doing is already being done by the full-time staff,” he said.
The county currently has nine elected positions. The commissioners have also suggested that the register of the Deeds West office in Fryeburg, which handles real estate documents for the southernmost towns in the county, might be eliminated.
The statement denies that the “watchdog” duties of the treasurer will be lost if the change occurs. It says the county’s financial records are available to the public, independently audited each year, and overseen by an annual budget committee. The commissioners also deny that the savings will be minimal.
“We believe that every expense line in the budget must be justified each year, and that duplication of costs should be eliminated wherever possible,” the statement says.
The proposed change in the status of the treasurer has led to some controversy. Cathy Newell, chair of the Oxford County Democrats, said she felt the commissioners had taken a “very partisan” approach to the matter. Commissioners Steve Merrill and Caldwell Jackson are Republicans, and commissioner David Duguay changed his affiliation from Republican to independent in 2008.
“I just found that their arguments were pretty weak,” said Newell.
Newell said she felt more people should have been involved in the decision on whether to proceed with the question, since it passed 2-0 with Jackson abstaining. Gedat said he aims to work in a non-partisan manner, but was disappointed by the proposal.
“I regret that they have chosen to politicize the treasurer’s position,” he said.
The commissioners have denied that the suggestion is politically motivated. On Tuesday, they agreed to have a brief statement on the article mentioning that it is supported by the board. They also agreed to convene the nine-member budget committee, which worked on the 2010 budget, to have them make a recommendation.