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By Lisa Loomis
While giving across-the-board cost-of-living increases to all other town employees, the Duxbury Select Board is proposing a 2014 budget that decreases the annual salary of longtime town clerk Ken Scott from $35,000 to $24,245 while increasing the annual salary of newly appointed town treasurer Kym Andrews from $6,000 to $16,754.
Duxbury elects its officers from the floor of Town Meeting and Andrews was appointed by the select board to fill the role in December after Scott resigned from that position. When Scott served as town clerk and town treasurer he was paid $41,000. His salary was based on four days a week as town clerk and one day a week as town treasurer. When he resigned December 1, his salary dropped by $6,000, which represented his one day a week as treasurer.
If Scott's hours are reduced to the equivalent of three days, or 24 hours a week, he loses his benefits including health and retirement benefits.
"I'm not in agreement with this change in days of the week the town clerk works. I'm not happy that the board thinks they can shift my hours. I feel it will have a negative impact on the citizens of the town. It's unclear to me how the board determined, without any study of the tasks that the clerk and treasurer perform, that the work of the clerk –and access to the town records – could be reduced without inconveniencing the citizens of Duxbury and the legal community," Scott said.
When Andrews was appointed to the one-day-a-week town treasurer position, she began working at that one-day-a-week rate of $6,000 per year. Andrews says she does plan to run for treasurer at Town Meeting and that she is "OK with putting in more time for this position as I believe it is needed."
Per Vermont statutes, the state's elected town clerks are the custodians of the public records, the land records, the vital records, the property maps, the grand lists, etc. Town records are available during a town clerk's regular hours and, per statute, the town clerk must be present when land records are being viewed.
Dick Charland, chair of the Duxbury Select Board, said it was his proposal to reduce the town clerk from four days a week to three, "based on the compensation we had for the clerk and treasurer."
Charland, when asked why the clerk's days or hours were reduced to the equivalent of three days a week, said because "we felt we were breaking up this pot of money and he resigned and gave up his one day a week as treasurer."
Asked why the work of the town clerk could be reduced from the equivalent of four days a week to three, Charland reiterated that Scott has resigned as treasurer.
"We based it on the number of days. We can't tell the clerk or treasurer what their working hours will be. They set their own. We had a pot of money and had to divide it as far as both positions go and had to decide what the compensation was going to be for each. It was our opinion that the treasurer should work two days a week and the clerk three," Charland said.
The vote by the select board to reduce Scott's wages was not unanimous. It came at a budget meeting in December. Charland made the motion and board members Maureen Harvey and Mo Lavanway voted in favor while board member Dawn Poitras voted in opposition. Board member Marty Wells was not present.
Because a town clerk is the legal custodian of the town's records, limiting the number of hours that a clerk can work means limiting access to the town's records to citizens, attorneys and other members of the public.
Attorney Barbara Taylor of Blythe and Taylor LLC in Montpelier and Northfield was not happy to hear about the potential of restricted access to the Duxbury land records. She said that while reduced access to town records will inconvenience her, the people really impacted are townspeople who are buying or selling or refinancing their homes.
"A well-run land records office is critical to the legal community but also to people in the community. The people who suffer are the people in the community. Borrowers, buyers and sellers suffer when town clerks and town offices are not supported sufficiently," Taylor said.
"People in general don't even get what the town clerk's job is. They think it's elections and dog licenses, but recording and land records are huge and it's a part of the state's economy and the local economy. Because the extent to which records are well maintained and tax documents and access to those documents are provided impacts how people can do business. I've observed Ken take that office and make it really efficient and make it possible for more than one attorney at a time to work there. His office runs like a really tight ship. It is incredibly organized and my risk of missing things is minimal because Ken has his finger on the pulse to help me," Taylor said.
Sandy McDowell, who does title work for Darby, Stearns, Thorndike, Kolter and Ware in Waterbury, said that reduced access to land records affects all kinds of situations.
"It's not just tough for me when I need access to the land records for real estate and refinancing, it will create hardships for people who need permits, need to pay taxes and have questions to ask," McDowell said.
Deb Lyford, a former town clerk who worked in title work on her own for 11 years and now works for a title company, concurred.
"A lot more goes into a town clerk's work than anyone realizes. Cutting the town clerk position will cause things to back up. The keeper of the records is a serious job and I don't think many people recognize the scope of that job and how much responsibility the clerk has," Lyford said.
With Scott's salary reduced by 25 percent and town road crew wages, along with the town treasurer, assistant town clerk and assistant town treasurer wages going up 2 percent, Duxbury's total 2014 expenditures come in at $793,204, up from 2013's $699,668. That breaks down to $497,000 for highway expenditures in 2014, up from $439,360 in 2013, and $296,204 in general government in 2014, up from $260,308 in 2013.