BEACON FALLS — The Board of Selectman got an earful when it presented proposed ordinance changes that would eliminate the elected positions of tax collector and town clerk in favor of hired ones.
If the ordinances went into effect, the positions of tax collector and town clerk would change from part-time elected positions to full-time, non-union salaried management positions. The Board of Selectmen would have to approve the hires by a two-thirds vote.
A group of about 30 residents, mostly seniors, opposed the change during a public hearing at the senior center Monday night. The consensus among the crowd was the change would limit the people’s power.
“We, the voters, are out of the picture,” said Jack Levine, a Republican Board of Finance candidate.
Those at the public hearing were not a cross-section of Beacon Falls, but rather Town Hall union members and their friends, according to First Selectman Susan Cable.
She said the ordinances were proposed after years of complaints about the efficiency of the offices from residents, none of whom showed up at the public hearing.
Cable read a letter Tax Collector Millie Jurzynski wrote in 2005 asking the assistant tax collector to become a full-time position. In the letter, Jurzynski wrote that that it is difficult for the assistant tax collector, which is a permanent position, to retrain a new elected tax collector every two years.
If the ordinance passed in referendum, the tax collector would become a hired position this year, after Jurzynski’s term expires in January. The town clerk would not become a hired position until 2014, when current town clerk Kurt Novak’s term expires.
At the public hearing, both Jurzynski and Novak spoke out against the changes to their positions.
Novak said the ordinance would create a lame-duck situation, with outgoing Board of Selectmen members hiring the new tax collector before the new board comes in.
Selectmen Michael Krenesky and Domenic Sorrentino are not running for re-election.
Novak was also concerned that the new ordinances didn’t specify that hires had to be certified.
“I’m afraid we’ll go the cheapest route,” he said.
Novak complained that he continuously requested training for his staff to become certified, but hadn’t been granted funds.
Cable responded that the town has offered training to staff, but that that staff were uninterested.
Novak defended his office, saying it has modernized tremendously over the last 10 years even as its budget was cut.
Jurzynski said the new ordinance belittled her and the assistant tax collector.
“We are being insulted. … None of you have any idea how that office is run,” Jurzynski said.
She said her office took in $6 million in back taxes this year.
Levine said there is no reason to change to positions when the people currently in office are doing their jobs.
“I don’t know of anybody who has not been professional,” he said.
Levine said he didn’t want a stranger coming from another town to fill the positions.
As an equal opportunity employer, the town cannot, by law, specify that hires come from Beacon Falls.
Town Nurse Sue Mis asked how many people would loose their jobs because of the changes.
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.
How the changes would affect positions in the town clerk’s office is still unclear.
“Our intent is not to throw anybody under the bus. … This is not a personal attack on Millie Jurzynski or Kurt Novak,” Cable said.
She emphasized that the public hearing was purely to collect information and changes could be made to the ordinances before they went to referendum.
“My ears are both open,” Cable said.
Labor attorney Francis D’Urso, who helped draft the ordinance, said the changes offer Beacon Falls more control over the offices. If a hired tax collector or town clerk isn’t doing their job, the town can fire them rather than waiting for the next election to throw them out, he said.
However, Gerard Smith, Republican candidate for first selectman, said firing an employee can lead to a legal battle. Smith said he opposed the proposed ordinance changes.
Selectman Domenic Sorrentino, chair of the committee that drafted the ordinance, said he was pleased with the response he got at the senor center.
“Democracy is working,” he said.
The Board of Selectmen had originally planned to hold a referendum on the ordinances in September, before the November elections and in conjunction with a referendum on a bond package to repair roads.
After the public hearing, however, it was unclear whether the ordinances would go to referendum and if they did, whether it would be in September or on the November ballot.
Kerensky said he would oppose sending the ordinances to referendum after the feedback he heard at the public hearing.
The town plans to hold a second public hearing Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the senior center.