January 18, 2022

County may cut pay of treasurer

MACHIAS — In a surprise move, Washington County commissioners have recommended changing the county treasurer’s position from an elected to an appointed office, and are proposing that the present treasurer’s annual salary be cut from $15,000 to $2,500.

In addition, commissioners also want to hire a full-time assistant bookkeeper to work in the treasurer’s office. The bookkeeper, under the commissioners’ plan, would earn $12,500 a year and work under the supervision of the commissioners and not the treasurer.

County Clerk Evangeline Hussey pointed out Friday that the commissioners’ recommendations, although approved by Tom Brennan and Preston Smith on Thursday, were not final. They were being sent to Rep. Theone Look, R-Jonesboro, for review by the county’s legislative delegation. Commission Chairman Robert J. Gillis Jr. did not attend the meeting.

Unless approved by the delegation, Theresa Geel, in her first year as treasurer, will continue to perform her duties full-time and at full salary. To change the treasurer’s post from an elected to an appointed position will require referendum passage by registered county voters.

Geel has waged an uphill battle with commissioners over the performance of her job. She began the year as a $7,500 a-year, part-time treasurer. Commissioners agreed in May to make the position full-time on a 75-day trial period after Geel argued she needed more time to meet the job’s requirements and other conditions placed on her by commissioners.

Geel said Friday that she is producing regular monthly financial reports, has paid outstanding or overdue bills and has brought the county’s vouchers up-to-date. Commissioners, however, argue that job deficiencies continue to exist.

Among the more embarrassing incidents to surface recently involved a Washington County deputy whose check from the county for $8.80 in personal expenses was rejected for insufficient funds two weeks ago at the Ellsworth branch of Machias Savings Bank.

Geel explained that she missed making a deposit before the bank closed “by about four or five minutes” that day. The county’s accounts are with the Machias office of MSB. When the deputy tried to cash the check, the account drew a red flag and the check was not honored, Geel said.

Several county offices received their monthly telephone bills, Friday, to find unpaid balances and late charges assessed to their offices. Thelma Grant, registrar of probate, attached a note to commissioners with her copy of the bill. The note made it clear that “any late charges can come from her (Geel’s) account, not mine,” Grant said.

Geel, meanwhile, said the county’s telephone bills were paid and speculated that payments crossed with the billings. “We may have missed their billing deadline,” she added.

According to a statement signed and submitted by Geel to commissioners, the county has paid a total of $577.88 in late fees since the beginning of the year. Of that, $308 was paid to New England Telephone.

Commissioners also were critical of a Maine State Retirement System audit dated Sept. 3. According to audit supervisor Herb Colson, the review was conducted “to ascertain why (the county) is very late” submitting its monthly payroll reports and employee-employer contributions to the state.

Colson stated that, when the audit began on May 9, monthly payroll reports had not been submitted since November, 1990. According to Colson, these reports are now current through June, 1991. July’s reports and payments, however, had not been received and were 19 days late as of Sept. 3.

“I have found in conversation with Ms. Geel that she feels she has no direct supervisor and had no task statement with completion dates for each month’s work,” Colson wrote. “I believe these are the major problems with the MSRS reports not being completed and mailed in time.”

Colson said earlier that one of the audit’s goals was to train Geel on completing and reconciling the various reports, payments and forms she is required to submit to the state.

Geel pointed out that the audit went back to 1988, and covered three years in which she did not serve as treasurer.

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