Voter turnout was low, with only 40 of the district’s 711 registered voters casting ballots. With 21 votes in favor of the adoption of the charter, 18 against, and one spoiled ballot, the current elected delinquent tax collector, William “Buzzy” Buswell, said the vote was decisive, but voters appear to be divided on the issue.
“Voters were divided, but they were willing to take a chance and see if the (charter) will work. I see a lot of problems.”
Currently, the district operates under VSA Title 24, the Vermont statute that pertains to the operation of municipalities. Under that law, the treasurer and tax collector are elected by voters in the district. The tax collector is compensated by receiving an 8% tax penalty collected when overdue taxes are collected. Under the charter, the two positions would be appointed by the prudential committee, which is like a town selectboard, and they would set the compensation.
According to NBFD administrator Linda Holland, the 8% penalty would still be collected on delinquent taxes, but the money would be added to the district’s general fund, reducing the overall cost of to the district’s 1,879 rate payers.
During informational meetings before the vote, Buswell was the lone voice of opposition to the adoption of the charter. On Wednesday, he said he’ll “go with the flow,” but says he foresees problems. “I think it’s going to affect North Branch,” he said. “Now you’re going to have an employee responsible for trying to collect taxes, an employee who already has other job obligations, and it’s going to be time-consuming. I’ve done the job; I know how time-consuming it is.”
Buswell says Rebecca Snow, who is expected to be hired for the additional responsibilities, is “very competent and will do a great job,” but he says district voters will lose their say over the two positions, and tax collection may not get as much attention as it does now. “I don’t think people are going to see the same continuity,” Buswell says. “You really have to stay on top of it, year after year, you keep working with a lot of the same people. If you don’t, things can accumulate quickly to where people can’t pay.”
Buswell also says the decision means he’ll be losing a job that provides a portion of his annual income. “I feel like politics was being played,” Buswell says. “I was pressured not to take a couple of people to tax sale, but you’ve got to treat everyone equally. Everyone has to have their due process. I see it going back to the old boys club now, where it will be the prudential committee that’s going to decide who goes up for tax sale.”
Holland says the voter-approved charter is headed for the Vermont Secretary of State’s office, where the entire process will be certified, before it goes to the Vermont Legislature for final approval.
“I’ve emailed Rep. John Moran and Rep. Ann Manwaring and asked if they could assist in pushing this through, and they’ve emailed back that they’ll help get it approved.”
Holland says the terms of the elected treasurer and delinquent tax collector will be officially terminated on July 15. She said she doesn’t foresee any problems with the transition.
North Branch Fire district’s most recent operating budget is $838,909, and the district also anticipates capital improvements of up to $412,455. Holland said the capital improvements include the replacement of clarifiers that weren’t part of a recent upgrade, and the possible relining of some of the facility’s ponds.