BEACON FALLS — The town is one step closer to changing two positions from elected to hired.
At a Jan. 3 town meeting, voters approved moving forward with requesting the state legislature rescind part of a special act to allow the town to hire the town clerk and tax collector rather than elect them. The votes were 97 to 50 for changing the town clerk and 118 to 48 for changing the tax collector.
A special act of the legislature approved in 1949 governs what positions are elected in Beacon Falls, since the town doesn’t have a town charter. The act states the town clerk and tax collectors positions are to be elected. The only way to make the positions appointed instead of elected is for the legislature to repeal that section of the special act.
The vote last week was a necessary step to show the legislature the town supports the move.
“This will give our legislators something to be able to take to the floor of the House or the Senate to be able to get acted on by the state,” First Selectman Christopher Bielik said.
Bielik said hiring the positions will allow for more stability in and oversite of the two offices that generate nearly all the revenue for the town.
“The Board of Selectmen does not have any direct managerial control over any elected position,” Bielik said. “It seems difficult for me to understand how you can expect the CEO to direct all of the actions that are being held in town, especially by the two departments that generate all the revenue that we rely upon to do stuff, and not have any managerial control over those two positions. I always found that slightly incongruous.”
Tax Collector Mary Anne Holloway and Town Clerk Len Greene both spoke in favor of making the change.
“I really feel this town needs a hired tax collector,” Holloway said. “I would like to leave that position at some point in time knowing that the town is secure.”
Currently, the tax collector is paid $12,000 a year. The town clerk is paid $4,800 a year, but also earns a portion of the filing fees collected by the office. In the 2016-17 fiscal year, Greene was paid $47,609, which included $42,809 from fees that the office collected, according to Bielik.
If they become appointed positions, they are likely to remain part time but their salaries will increase. Under the town’s plan, the tax collector would make about $25,000 a year and the town clerk would make $29,000 a year, Bielik said.
Board of Finance Vice Chairman Joe Rodorigo said the town clerk would no longer collect fees, and the salary would be offset with those fees, so it would be revenue neutral for the town.
Since taking office four years ago, Bielik said Holloway has managed to collect about $2.5 million in back taxes.
“The amount of time and effort she has put into making that happen is way beyond what anybody could probably reasonably expect for $1,000 a month,” Bielik said. “We have seen some tremendous results for tenths of pennies on the dollar. I don’t think we can count on that continuing in the future indefinitely.”
Jim Huk, a former member of the finance board, said the town is lucky to have Holloway. But, he said, voters could elect someone who is not talented or motivated in the job and it would cost the town money.
“You are getting what you pay for,” Huk said. “Make it a professional position and you get a professional result.”
Even if the legislature approves the town’s request to change the special act, the change would not go into effect right away. Bielik said Greene and Holloway would finish their current terms, which run until in 2021 and 2019, respectively.
The town is also going to request the legislature rescind another part of the special act to allow the Board of Finance members to fill vacancies on the board.
Voters approved the making the request 77 to 63.
Currently, the special act states the Board of Selectmen has the authority to fill any vacancy on any municipal board. Officials want to change it so finance board members can appoint a person to fill a vacancy. The seat would then be up for election at the next municipal election.
Huk said the selectmen shouldn’t be involved with filling a vacancy on the finance board because it’s supposed to be a check on whatever administration controls the town.
“If you give the control to the Board of Selectmen to put on who they want, they’ll put on yes votes. The Board of Finance’s job is not to agree with everything that is given. You want them independent? Keep the Board of Selectmen out of it,” Huk said.
Rodorigo echoed Huk’s comments, saying the power to appoint a Board of Finance member to a vacant seat should reside with the board.
“If you want to keep politics out of the Board of Finance, and you absolutely do, keep the politicians out of it,” Rodorigo said.