Citing budget dispute, Salisbury clerk cuts office hours

SALISBURY — Salisbury residents needing to conduct business at their town office during the month of June will be limited to a three-hour window on Mondays, down from what had been a combined total of 17 hours per week spanning Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Salisbury Town Clerk/Treasurer Ann Dittami recently announced the substantial cutback in office hours after failing to strike a budget compromise with the town selectboard. Dittami had exceeded the fiscal year 2014 budget of $3,075 for assistant town clerk hours by more than $2,000, according to municipal officials.
Fiscal year 2015 begins on July 1, at which time the new municipal budget, approved by voters this past Town Meeting Day, will take effect. But in the meantime, residents will have to make do with fewer office hours.
“Due to budgetary constraints imposed by the Salisbury selectboard, the Salisbury town office hours have been changed to Mondays, 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.,” reads a notice posted by Dittami regarding the cutback. “I am sorry about the inconvenience this will cause, but without the assistance of my assistant clerk, I cannot keep the office open at the usual scheduled hours.”
Dittami said she will provide service to people outside of office hours in an emergency.
Dittami reported needing more administrative help in the office for two main reasons. First, she said she has carpal tunnel syndrome in her right wrist, which might require surgery.
“I can no longer do all the data entry and I need my assistant to do the bulk of the town clerk data entry for the mandated state of Vermont programs,” she said.
Second, Dittami pointed to new responsibilities that make her less able to deal with customers during office hours. When she saw there were no takers for the town treasurer’s post, Dittami decided to run for the job herself on March 4 instead of seeing it filled through a write-in campaign. As town clerk and treasurer, Dittami said she is more reliant on an assistant to help the public during office hours. Dittami has been town clerk for eight years; this is the first year she has also served as town treasurer.
Dittami claims the selectboard has essentially level-funded the assistant clerk budget at around $3,000 since the 1990s. In the meantime, she said municipal clerks’ work responsibilities have increased. As long as she is both town clerk and treasurer, Dittami said, she needs to have an assistant on duty at all times the office is open to the public. The assistant town clerk is currently paid a wage of $12 per hour, according to Dittami. At that rate, the current budget will pay for a total of 256 hours per year — or around five hours a week, she said.
Salisbury has a population of 1,136, according to the 2010 federal census.
Dittami believes the town office budget has been insufficient since fiscal year 2006.
There are no state statutes mandating the office hours of a Vermont municipal clerk, according to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns’ “Handbook for Municipal Clerks.” The clerk has the authority to set these hours, which are usually determined by the amount of work to be done, according to the handbook. In smaller municipalities, the clerk may not even have regular office hours or a conventional office. However, state statutes require that the files and records maintained by the municipal clerk must be available for public inspection, “upon proper request, at all reasonable hours.”
Ben Fuller, chairman of the Salisbury selectboard, said he and his colleagues are disappointed by Dittami’s decision to have fewer office hours.
“People are concerned about it and not sure about what is going on,” he said. “There really wasn’t any forewarning.”
Salisbury officials said they have been concerned about what has been poor communication between the clerk/treasurer and the board.
“The town clerk overspent her budget for assistant clerk by several thousand dollars, and never sought approval for her over-expenditure,” Fuller said. The board decided that based on its fiduciary responsibility to local taxpayers, it should not pay for more assistant clerk hours for the balance of this fiscal year, according to Fuller.
Dittami has not yet decided what the town office hours will be come July 1, when a new, level-funded budget will be available for assistant clerk hours. She has already announced that this will be her last year as town clerk/treasurer. Dittami said she has grown weary of the current tenor of town politics. She also reported that a total of 10 tires were slashed on her vehicle while parked at the town offices between last November and January of this year.
“Enough is enough,” she said.
Reporter John Flowers is at johnf@addisonindependen

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