ALFRED — Does York County government need an elected treasurer? Some say yes, that the part-time elected position provides checks and balances not afforded by someone appointed to the spot. Others say with a finance director in place, the county really doesn’t need an elected treasurer, and that the role is purely ceremonial.

York County residents could decide the issue in a referendum, perhaps as early as this coming November. County commissioners are expected to begin discussing the issue at their next meeting, set for 5 p.m. March 5 at the York County government building on Route 4. They could decide to leave the matter as it currently stands, or, if they wish to pursue abolishing the elected position in favor of an appointed one, vote to put it to referendum. The process to do so is spelled out in state statues.

Treasurer Frank Wood, who is seeking a fourth term ”“ he filled out a term held by a former treasurer who resigned and will have completed his second four-year term Dec. 31”“ said he has mixed feelings about the matter. Wood, whose resume includes a stint as the state purchasing agent and later as chief financial officer for the Maine Attorney General’s Office, said the job, which is part-time, is largely one of oversight.

It is his name that is affixed to the checks, and he said he’s been previously called upon to give his advice on financial situations. Wood said on one occasion, when the county was in a fiscal crisis, he refused to sign off on a plan that would have seen the county borrow money from the jail to tide it over. Wood said he believes in that situation, his decision as treasurer not to sign off on the agreement saved the county considerable legal problems.

And Wood said an elected treasurer is beholden to the voters rather than to county management.

“There definitely is a role for a treasurer, in terms of checks and balances,” Wood said. “The county is in good shape now, but there were problems in the past, and there’s no guarantee there won’t be in the future. The treasurer is another set of eyes looking at things. The treasurer can pick out problems before they happen.”

He said commissioners could make better use of the treasurer’s expertise when looking at financial issues.

County Manager Greg Zinser feels differently.

“The treasurer is largely a carry-over from the old way of operating,” said Zinser, who added he believes the position doesn’t serve a particular function in York County. The county has a finance director and an annual audit, he said.

“The position of treasurer in York County is ceremonial,” Zinser said. “I am unable to tell you, as county administrator, what the treasurer does.”

The job currently pays $6,736 annually. Under a new wage plan for elected officials approved by county commissioners in December, an incumbent would continue to receive the same salary, but if a new treasurer were elected, the pay would be reduced to $500 annually.

Four-term Biddeford City Councilor Bob Mills, who will challenge Wood in the Democratic primary for county treasurer June 10, said he had heard the elected position might be abolished, but decided to run anyway.

In a telephone interview Wednesday, Mills said he didn’t know about the decision by commissioners to reduce the pay for the position, but said that doesn’t matter to him. Mills agrees that the job provides checks and balances, and said it would be beneficial for someone involved in municipal government ”“ which pays the lion’s share of county revenues in the form of taxes ”“ to be part of county government and to weigh in on the county budget.

“I firmly believe most people will feel it’s a position that is needed,” if the measure goes to referendum, Mills said.

“I don’t have a problem with letting the public decide,” said County Commission Chairwoman Sallie Chandler, who said she’s not sure if the treasurer really does provide “another set of eyes” on the county’s finances. “I don’t have an issue with it one way or another.”

David A. Parkman is president of the County Treasurer’s Association and part-time treasurer in Waldo County, where a full-time deputy treasurer is employed. He said with a few exceptions, most county treasurers are elected, not appointed. Parkman said he’s protective of the elected position. He noted many municipalities have gone to appointing treasurers and clerks and other formerly elected offices.

“We’re losing our representative government in bits and pieces,” he said. “An appointed treasurer will tell county commissioners what they want to hear. If you’re elected, you can tell them what you think, period.”

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or [email protected]

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