Falmouth council stands by decision to outsource assessing

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FALMOUTH — The Town Council’s decision to outsource its assessing services to the county will stand.

That was the outcome of a closed-door council meeting April 10 with the town’s attorney, according council Chairwoman Teresa Pierce.

“The vote will stand,” Pierce said after the executive session. “We’re not changing anything we did.”

The private meeting was at the request of Councilor Russ Anderson, who said the council’s March 24 decision to outsource its assessing services to Cumberland County violated the Town Charter.

According to Anderson’s interpretation, the charter does not allow the council to dismantle the assessing department, an opinion he reiterated in a letter published by The Forecaster.

Town attorney William Plouffe, on the other hand, had said the decision is allowable under the charter because, in essence, the charter gives the town manager the authority to hire and fire the town’s assessor.

After the 5-2 vote on March 24, Anderson urged the council to re-evaluate its decision, saying that the town was vulnerable to legal action.

Because Thursday’s meeting was held in executive session, Pierce couldn’t discuss details. However, she said Plouffe will soon prepare another letter “highlighting parts of the conversation.” The letter will be available later this month, she said.

Anderson said Plouffe’s pending letter will be an “additional opinion addressing the areas I had raised as questions.” Nonetheless, Anderson appeared unswayed by the meeting.

“Let me put it this way: I think reasonable people can disagree,” he said. “And I think reasonable people are still disagreeing on it.”

Both Anderson and Pierce described the meeting as cordial.

“It’s always good to sit down and talk,” Pierce said. “I thought it was a thoughtful and respectful conversation.”

Earlier this month, Brenda Keilty, the state’s public access ombudsman, said the decision to meet behind closed doors was appropriate because the council was discussing its “legal rights and responsibilities,” i.e., the Town Charter, with its attorney, as allowed by state law.

Regardless of the decision to outsource, Falmouth would have needed a new assessor by the end of the fiscal year because long-time assessor Anne Gregory plans to retire on June 31.

The town was faced with a choice: Hire a new full-time assessor to replace Gregory, or join with Cumberland and Yarmouth in outsourcing that responsibility to the county.

Town Manager Nathan Poore has said consolidation will net the town annual savings between $50,000 and $60,000.

Ben McCanna can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or bmccanna@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @BenMcCanna.