August 21 2018

Proposition to Change Treasurer/Tax Collector from Elected to Appointed to be Before Town Meeting

By: Rich Hosford

Last week the Board of Selectmen voted 4-1 to place an article on the September Town Meeting warrant that, if approved, would direct the board to start the process of changing the Treasurer/Tax Collector position from elected to appointed.

The idea of making the change was first floated in February after current Treasurer/Tax Collector Brian Curtin, who has been in the position for over four decades, announced his retirement.

Selectman Bob Hogan, currently the Vice Chair of the board, said at the time that he felt the position had grown too complicated over Curtin’s tenure to have it be in the hands of someone who was more “popular” than qualified. He pointed out that the town budget had grown from $20 million to about $140 million during the last 42 years and there are more rules and regulations. A warrant article to make this changes had been floated for the May Town Meeting but had been withdrawn due to other members of the board wanting to further explore the issue first.

The timing of the issue also became less pressing. In April, Curtin announced that he had reversed his decision to retire at this time. He said it is still his intention to retire within a few years but that due to a range of circumstances he had decided that 2019 was not the right time. One concern he had was too much transition among top leadership in town all at once. Town Administrator John Petrin had announced his retirement and at that time it was known that Town Accountant Paul Sagarino was seeking that position, to which he has subsequently been appointed.

I don’t want both of those important financial positions to have people with no experience,” Curtin said in April about the Town Accountant and Treasurer/Tax Collector positions. “That’s what changed my thinking right now.”

Last week, Hogan again brought up his concerns with having the position an elected one and suggested the warrant article for September.

“I think it’s time to have conversation about making this an appointed position so we can draw from widest range of people to get the most qualified and not just the most popular,” he said.

 

Curtin, who was in attendance at the meeting, said he believes the position should remain elected.

 

“I feel it should be elected to ensure checks and balances and to have the person have to answer to taxpayers and residents,” he said.

 

Curtin added that the Treasurer/Tax Collector is responsible for borrowing on all capital projects and the selecting a financial advisor for any borrowings and he believes having independence when making financial decisions is important for the position.

 

“I feel like it should be elected to maintain independent financial advice to all boards, Town Meeting and residents without fear of interference from the town administration.”

 

Finally, he argued that limiting the position to Burlington residents, which is a feature of an elected position, is a strength.

 

“I think one reason for having the seat elected is having a person who lives here,” he said. “I think residents have more passion for the town. People who are appointed sometimes stay a couple of years and leave.”

 

Hogan did not agree.

 

“For once in 40 years I disagree with Brian,” he said. “The transition of a new Town Administrator and Town Accountant means I want someone with experience, who knows what they’re doing from day one. I think that transition makes more sense with an appointed position.”

 

Hogan also argued the town has done well with hiring people, both from inside and outside the town, in the past. He pointed to people like Petrin, Sagarino, Police Chief Michael Kent and Fire Chief Steve Yetman as examples of strong leaders appointed by the town.

 

“We have a good track record of hiring good people,” he said.

 

In the end the board voted 4-1 to put the article on the warrant. Selectman Joe Morandi was the one “no” vote.

 

Finally, the process of changing the position from elected to appointed does not end with Town Meeting. If Town Meeting votes in favor of the article the Board of Selectmen will then place a ballot question for the April Town Meeting, Burlington Town Clerk Amy Warfield explained to BNEWS.

 

If the ballot question passes whoever wins the seat in the election, Curtin or someone else, will hold the position until the Board of Selectmen finds someone to appoint.


 

 
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