DRESDEN — In response to several reports of problems with elected administrative workers, Dresden’s Selectboard is looking to change those positions to ones that are appointive.

Selectwoman Trudy Foss said Tuesday that a letter will be mailed to all Dresden residents informing them of criticisms of the Town Office and urging them to support switching the positions from elective to appointive, probably on the next Town Meeting warrant.

Town Clerk and Treasurer Shirley Storkson said she was unaware of any mailer and declined to comment until she knows more about the situation. Her position, as well as that of excise tax collector and property tax collector, currently held by Ann Pierce, are the positions the town is suggesting be filled by appointment.

The catalyst for Foss’s revelation was an incident involving misplaced homestead exemption paperwork, creating a four-year-long logjam for a property owner looking for a tax incentive. The paperwork problem wasn’t the first time the problem was raised, however, as the Kennebec Journal reported in August that residents had complained of poor service at the Town Office.

At that time, Storkson said the town doesn’t allocate enough hours for adequate coverage or for training. Experts said office staff members in small towns often struggle with juggling the responsibilities of multiple positions because of complex procedures.

Foss said selectmen have no power over the Town Office staff because they are both sets of elected officials. She said any guidelines or instructions for the office workers would come from state-level organizations, while selectmen only can suggest that the workers do things.

“If it’s something they don’t want to do and they don’t feel they have to, they won’t listen to the selectmen,” Foss said. “I wanted to run for selectman to give a little extra input, but it hasn’t worked out.”

The only thing selectmen could do to exert more control over the officer workers, she said, would be to change the town’s code to make their positions appointive. Foss said the town has discussed making the switch before, but townspeople favored voting for residents rather than potentially appointing outsiders.

“(The Selectboard) would like them appointed so we can hire people that have the knowledge they need to do these jobs,” she said.

In August, Eric Conrad, spokesman for the Maine Municipal Association, told the Kennebec Journal that all sectors in Maine have struggled to find qualified workers. With Maine’s average age increasing, he said, there is no guarantee that any highly qualified candidates will apply for municipal jobs.

“You might be hiring someone that works at a retail store that may have just as much background as an elected (official),” he said Tuesday. “Either way, you have someone who has never had municipal experience.”

ABATEMENT PROBLEM

Selectmen voted unanimously Monday to grant Dresden property owner Ronald Wentworth an abatement for this year’s tax bill after he complained that Town Office workers had bungled his application for a homestead exemption affecting a property at 7 Middle Road.

At the meeting, the actual figure for the abatement was unknown, but it was granted anyway.

Wentworth, a Wiscasset man who travels to Florida for the winter, is listed as a co-owner of the property with his son-in-law Jonathan Doray, who Wentworth said has lived at the property since 2015. He said he applied for homestead exemption in 2015 but was denied.

“We first applied for the homestead act in 2015,” Wentworth said at the meeting. “Because of retirement, I go to Florida in the winter and I never got the notification (that we were denied.)”

The homestead exemption applies to permanent residences in Maine and provides a reduction of up to $20,000 in the value of a home for property tax purposes. In 2018, the property at 7 Middle Road had an assessed value of $103,281, so an exemption would have meant the value was $83,281. Town Administrative Assistant Michael Henderson said Tuesday the abatement given was for $358.38.

Henderson said the 2015 exemption request was denied because not all parties were on the deed for the property; it was edited in November 2015.

Because Wentworth leaves for Florida in November, he applied for the exemption in October 2016, but he claimed that when he returned from Florida in May 2017, that the paperwork was lost and the exemption was not granted. He said he applied again in 2018, prior to the April 1 deadline, and that paperwork also was lost.

Henderson said during the meeting that the office has the 2015 application, the subsequent denial letter and the newest application, but nothing from two other applications Wentworth described.

“I can’t say if that’s us losing it,” he said.

Wentworth said he applied again this year, after the April 1 deadline, and provided a second copy of the deed for the property, which was lost along with the paperwork.

“It seems likes your administrative office has some problems,” he said.

Wentworth asked selectmen for a tax abatement in the amount of what would have been the homestead exemption for 2017 and 2018, citing “clerical errors” at the office.

Selectman Alan Moeller said in a Tuesday phone call that this problem does not reflect on the current Town Office staff, as it happened before their election. He said it’s difficult to condemn the Town Office staff from 2016 and 2017 because there is no proof that the forms were neither lost nor filed by Wentworth.

“I don’t want to point fingers because there’s no proof to point fingers,” Moeller said.

Pierce and Foss both served as administrative workers during the entire timeline of Wentworth’s problem.

Foss said the homestead exemption will be attached to Wentworth’s property for the next fiscal year. She did not recall dealing with Wentworth between the first application and the most recent application.

“I know nothing about (lost paperwork,)” she said. “If he applied again, he didn’t do it with me.”

Sam Shepherd — 621-5666

[email protected]

Twitter: @SamShepME

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