Committee proposes eliminating elected clerk, tax collector positions

Town officials have proposed a new ordinance that would eliminate the elected town clerk and tax collector positions.

BEACON FALLS — An ordinance committee has proposed two ordinances that would change the elected positions of tax collector and town clerk to hired ones.

If the ordinances went into effect, the positions would change from part-time to full-time, non-union salaried management positions, according to minutes from the committee’s July 15 meeting. The Board of Selectmen would have to approve the hires by a two-thirds vote the proposed ordinances state.

The change in the positions is part of an effort to maintain accountability, efficiency, and a high level of professionalism, according to the text of the draft ordinance.

“My sense of it is that we’ve already seen some of what a full-time tax collector could do,” Board of Finance Chair Chris Bielik said.

Since the town has focused on collecting back taxes over last couple of months, it has already seen a return on its investment.

Delinquent taxes currently total over $1 million.

Recently, several delinquent properties were sold at auction and owners paid off delinquent taxes on additional properties before they went to auction, according to Bielik.

“I think that taking that kind of aggressive approach that we had, that’s the kind of aggressive thing that we can be doing more of when we get the full-time tax collector in there,” Bielik said.

The new tax collector position would start in January, upon the expiration of the current elected position.

The town has already incorporated the increased salary for a full-time tax collector in this year’s budget.

The increase in the tax collector salary was offset by the elimination of the part-time assistant tax collector, which would no longer be needed with a full-time tax collector. The difference means the town will pay about $9,000 more in wages for the tax collector this year. Budgeted wages for the tax collector are $42,000 with an additional $16,000 for the assistant tax collector, a figure that factors in the current arrangement before the assistant tax collector is phased out.

Other benefits would be a wash since there is already one person in that office receiving benefits, Bielik said. The new, hired tax collector would work 40 hours per week.

“I think on a monthly basis, it would actually be more hours. There would be someone there in the office all time when it’s open,” Bielik said.

He said the town would hire a part-time temporary worker to cover the office when the tax collector is on vacation.

Officials hope that the increase in salary will be outweighed by an increase in revenue from collecting back taxes.

“We’re going to be able to tap into a little bit more of that outstanding debt with somebody that’s basically focused full-time on that job,” Bielik said.

Since Town Clerk Kurt Novak’s term doesn’t expire until 2014, the Board of Finance won’t have to factor an increase in the town clerk’s salary into the budget for a few more cycles.

The clerk’s office currently has three positions in the office, an elected town clerk, an assistant town clerk, and a part-time assistant town clerk. The elected clerk’s salary is $3,687. The assistant clerk makes $36,533, while the part-time assistant makes $18,816.

Bielik anticipated the town would probably combine positions in that office.

But, according to Novak, the change would not make financial sense. He said the town can’t afford the employees it has now, much less hire another full-time employee with full-time benefits.

“It would just be such an added burden to the taxpayers,” he said.

He worried about what would happen if the tax collector got sick or had to go out on workman’s compensation.

“You have no backup. That’s not good management,” Novak said. “You’re reducing staff and adding cost. I can’t see an ounce of wisdom in this. If you want to give people raises, you give them a raise,” Novak said.

Unlike the tax collector, a hired town clerk would not have an opportunity to collect more revenue, according to Bielik.

“I think that what we’re looking for is just more stability within the office itself,” he said.

Novak said that changing the elected positions to hired ones would take away the people’s voice.

“I think people’s rights of electing who they want are taken away,” Novak said.

He said the town clerks in about half of the towns in Connecticut are elected and half are appointed, but in most small communities like Beacon Falls, the position is elected.

Novak has served as town clerk in Beacon Falls for about 10 years and has received state certification for the position.

“I think the people are happy with how the position is. I see no need for change yet,” he said.

Novak said permanent employees in the office offer stability even if a new clerk is elected, but that they need training. Novak said he has asked for funding to train staff to state certification levels for the past seven years, but has not received it.

If the town clerk’s position is hired, Novak said there is a risk that a political appointee with little or no experience would get the position over someone with qualifications. He said this has happened to him when he applied for full-time town clerk positions in other towns.

“The history behind political appointments like this is not good,” Novak said.

He said voters don’t know who their elected officials will be in 2014.

“That’s just too big of a gamble, I think, for the voting public to take,” Novak said.

Long-time Democratic Tax Collector Millie Jurzynski is running for reelection in November against Republican Ed Groth.

Jurzynski is seeking her 11th term in office, but previously indicated that she would not be interested in a full-time position. She had suggested when she first was first elected that the part-time assistant should be the full-time tax collector and her positions should be part-time.

The changes to the ordinances would have to be approved by residents at referendum, probably sometime in September, according to Bielik.

Public hearings on the ordinance are scheduled for Aug. 29 and Aug. 31, according to Selectman Domenic Sorrentino, who’s on the committee.