HARPSWELL — Town treasurer will become an appointed position next year after the town’s only referendum question narrowly passed with 53 percent of the vote, 1,760 to 1,534.

“I’m glad they saw the advantage of an appointed town treasurer” for the management of town finances, Selectman Jim Henderson said Wednesday.

The referendum question asked voters if they wanted to change hiring of the treasurer, which has traditionally been an election position, to one appointed by the Board of Selectmen.

Henderson said passage would protect the town from electing an under-qualified candidate. Current state law only requires an elected treasurer to be 18 years old, a Maine resident and a U.S. citizen.

“When considering someone to be responsible for more than $15 million, including the town’s budget and borrowings and the Harpswell share of both the county and (school) budgets, the state requirements are just totally inadequate,”the Board of Selectmen’s rationale for supporting the measure said. “Having an appointed treasurer will allow the town to establish qualifications for the position when it becomes vacant. It will permit the town to check references and to take all the normal steps that any prudent business operator would take in an effort to assure the employment of someone equal to the task.”

Some residents still asked why a major constitutional change like this wasn’t held for discussion until the annual Town Meeting next March.

“I think what’s wrong with doing it, in this vote at this time, is that it goes before the largest electorate the town has at the time of the presidential election,” former Selectman Gordon Weil told selectmen last month. “A vast majority of those people voting, I daresay and from experience, don’t follow town affairs closely.”

Weil said he was concerned about how independent the treasurer would remain, about the legal conditions for the treasurer’s removal from office, and how the change would impact the town budget.

The treasurer’s responsibilities would remain the same when it becomes an appointed position, the town responded in bulletin, although some of the logistics will be determined by Town Meeting.

“We will have a proposal that will accommodate issues of pay and so forth at the Town Meeting,” Henderson said.

Dylan Martin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @DylanLJMartin.

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