The oldest form of government in Maine is county government. It dates all the way back to the Declaration of Independence. After York became Maine’s first official county in 1820, when Maine separated from Massachusetts, each Maine county has elected commissioners, a sheriff, a district attorney and … a treasurer.
This fall, Hancock County has no candidates on the ballot running for the office of treasurer. The current county finance coordinator, Pamela Linscott, has been persuaded to be a write-in candidate for this vital role. Incidentally, this is a position that the County Commissioners have long wanted to be an appointed one so that they could make the selection, not voters.
As currently defined by law, each Maine county treasurer is an elected official whose only qualification for the job is that he or she be a resident of that county. The treasurer is charged with maintaining the county’s financial records, as well as the investment of our tax payments. We are talking millions of dollars. These are tasks more often than not performed by trained professionals.
The county treasurer’s job is complicated by ever-increasing compliance regulations, bonding requirements and legal restraints for payroll. Today’s county fiscal matters are vastly more complex than they were in 1776. They are more complex than they were in 1955, when the Legislature approved a raise for the Hancock County treasurer bringing the annual salary to $2,000.
Why is only one person interested in this important job? Could it be that professional auditors and accountants are uninterested in knocking on doors and campaigning for a neutral, nonpartisan job? Could it also be the $37,000 annual pay?
The county, correctly, plans to hire a part-time treasurer to assist the new treasurer. This is the proper structure for managing the county’s myriad accounts and assets while working with the county’s finance director.
Hancock County is fortunate to have a skilled and experienced individual as the write-in candidate. Even so, why is this position subject to the winds and whims of the voting booth? We believe the County Commissioners are correct to want to hire the most qualified individuals for this important position, making the person holding this post accountable to them. Would you hire a tax accountant who you could not hold accountable for his or her work?
It is time for voters locally, or the Legislature statewide, to change the treasurer position in county government. Much as justice should be blind to any particular political persuasion, the handling and managing of Hancock County’s financial affairs should know no political affiliation and operate above the electoral fray. The money for the courthouse, the jail, public health and safety and the Registry of Deeds should have no political DNA.
The County Commissioners should select, hire and retain the most capable people available for the professional jobs in our local county government. Let’s make sure we elect legislative candidates this November who agree to pursue a change in the law requiring our county treasurer to be elected.