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Gilford selectmen propose splitting clerk/tax positions

GILFORD - Saying they want to make some "housekeeping" changes as a safeguard, the selectmen have prepared a warrant article that will ask voters in March to give the board authority to split the offices of town clerk and tax collector.

If passed, the article would also change the governing structure so that the selectmen would have full appointment authority over the tax collector's position, said Town Administrator Scott Dunn. The town clerk's position is elected.

The town clerk and tax collector of the past 25 years, Denise Gonyer, opposes the idea, and is upset because she was not consulted or told of the article until the board approved it Wednesday night.

"It will cost us in efficiency, it will cost us money, and it's completely unnecessary," Gonyer said.

Selectmen Gus Benavides, J. Kevin Hayes and John T. O'Brien voted unanimously Wednesday night to present the article at the deliberative session of town meeting on Feb. 6.

In making the case for the change, board members said Gonyer is serving the town well, and said her job is not in jeopardy.

If the article passes, the board has no plans to actually split her position into a part-time town clerk and a part-time tax collector (as the article provides), Hayes said.

"We're just trying to do some housekeeping and think ahead of ways we can protect the town," he said. "(Gonyer) is doing a great job in these roles. This really isn't about her, it's about building in a safeguard for down the road in case we need it."

The article is designed for a worst-case scenario in which the town clerk/tax collector becomes ill or has to leave the position without notice, he said.

"If for some reason the town clerk/tax collector has to leave us, we're not sure we'd be able to find anyone qualified to do both jobs, so we think this is a wise idea," Hayes said.

"The other selectmen and I have been discussing this so we have the authority in case we need it some day."

Gonyer said that had the board consulted her, she would have advised that the trend among town governments in recent years has been to merge the two positions, not split them. Towns have found that one person can do both jobs, which saves money, she said.

Splitting the offices would be costly, she said, and unnecessary because state law already provides for the town clerk and tax collector position's authority to be passed on to a deputy clerks if necessary.

"I will be opposing this article," Gonyer said.

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