VERNON -- Come July 1, Vernon will still have an elected auditors' office.
But it is unclear how much work those auditors will accomplish given voters' agreement this week that the office's funding should be drastically decreased.
On a voice vote that left no doubt about the feelings of a large crowd packed into Vernon Elementary School gym, residents on Monday night rejected a proposal to restore the elected auditors' total salaries to $35,000.
That means the three auditors' salaries will be reduced to $2,700, with $20,000 allocated for an outside audit in fiscal year 2015. Selectboard members say that is the right way to go, given the town's coming financial crunch due to the pending closure of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant.
"What we're trying to do is to get our town to live the way all the other towns live," Selectboard Chairwoman Patty O'Donnell said.
The vote came at a special Town Meeting to reconsider Vernon's fiscal 2015 municipal budget. Though the main event was a debate over the future of Vernon's police department, the town auditors and their supporters had successfully petitioned for reconsideration of another Town Meeting article related to their salaries.
That article had been passed over at Town Meeting in March. But in the context of the budget debate at that time, voters declined to restore the auditors' salaries.
The Selectboard's initial budget reduced those salaries from $35,417 to $2,700. Selectboard members argued that contracting with a private auditing firm will save the town money, and they made that recommendation after visiting with other towns that utilize outside audits.
"We didn't just put a budget together willy-nilly," O'Donnell told the crowd on Monday,
Auditors fought the change, saying the town would lose its independent financial oversight. The office's duties include review of 29 town funds; quarterly review of the town clerk's remittances and delinquent tax collector's records; yearly examination of the Vernon Seniors' and Vernon Historians' records; and evaluation of library expenditures.
Auditors said they also review payroll warrants, contracts, time sheets and purchase orders, and they assemble the annual town report.
An allocation of just $2,700, or $900 for each auditor, would allow for only an hour of work per week, Auditor Nancy Gassett said a few weeks before Monday's vote. "We couldn't even do the town report for that," Gassett said.
At Monday's meeting, Vernon resident Munson Hicks spoke in favor of restoring the auditors' salaries. He argued that there are hidden costs associated with an outside audit that have not been considered by the Selectboard.
"It's a bad deal to go to a once-a-year, outside audit," Hicks said.
There also were complaints that the Selectboard essentially was eliminating the auditors' office without explicitly seeking voter permission to do so. But attorney Larry Slason, representing the town for Monday's meeting, disagreed.
"They have not eliminated the office of auditor," Slason said. "What they've done is changed the amount the auditors will receive."
The debate over the auditors' funding didn't last long after that, with one resident declaring her support for cutting salaries by saying, "Other towns do it. We can do it. We did it before."
Contacted on Tuesday, the auditors said they had no immediate comment on Monday's vote.
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.