Sanford Springvale News Banner

Copyright © 2024 – Sanford Springvale News – All rights reserved.

The Charter Review Committee met April 4, 2022, and continued reviewing the City Charter. In addition to the Committee members, Superintendent of Schools Matt Nelson, School Committee member Jonathan Mapes and City Clerk Sue Cote were present.

Article IV (City Manager) and Article V (Board of Education) were gone over without much discussion. Before diving into the individual sections of Article VI (Budget), the Committee members had an overarching discussion of the powers and composition of the Budget Committee, which consumed most of the meeting.

Lance Hoenig, Chair of the Charter Review Committee called the Budget Committee an “unnecessary redundance” as it can only make recommendations. The City Council has the final authority on the municipal budget, while the school budget goes to voter referendum.

Mr. Mapes said he believes the Budget Committee has a role to play in reviewing the budget. He said that while the administrators from the City and the School currently have a good working relationship, “if you change the names, it can go south fast.”

City Manager Steve Buck said a big problem with the appointed Budget Committee, as with the prior elected Finance Committee, is getting citizens to participate. The City only got four applications this year to fill the four available positions. He said it is also difficult for members of the public to absorb all the budget information quickly enough to make effective decisions. He advocated for the Budget Committee to be comprised of the seven City Councilors and five School Committee members instead.

He also called the school budget validation process, whereby voters approve the budget by referendum in June, a “useless process” since taxes are already committed by that date, so even if the budget is voted down, it has no impact on residents’ tax bills.

City Councilor Bob Stackpole respectfully disagreed with expanding the Budget Committee, calling 12 members “too many cooks.” He said he would prefer to eliminate the Committee altogether, and instead have a more intensive review by the Council. “The Council needs to be where the buck stops,” he said, adding that if a Council member is a “slasher” or a “spender,” voters have the choice to replace them on Election Day. He said eliminating the Budget Committee would force Councilors to engage more with the budget.

Mr. Hoenig pointed out that if the Budget Committee is eliminated, power and money will be concentrated “in a government vacuum” where outside ideas are not looked at. He said perhaps a return to an elected Budget Committee would be best.

Deputy Mayor Maura Herlihy said people who are interested in the budget should be encouraged to run for City Council instead. “I’m tired of being on Council, but I don’t see good people running,” she said. “People who don’t understand [the budget] are running.” If the majority wants to keep the Budget Committee with citizen members, she recommended making it a three-year term, so that a whole new group doesn’t have to start from scratch each year.

Mr. Nelson said that if the Budget Committee is retained, he would prefer to have some School Committee representation, as they have more experience with the school budget than City Council members.

Joan Hamlin-Chapin suggested it be comprised of three members of the public, along with three members each from the City Council and School Committee. She said even if the Budget Committee doesn’t have any actual power, residents need to feel like they have representation.

The other aspect of the Charter that was discussed was whether it should be amended to reinstate the referendum vote on the municipal budget. Jack McAdam voiced his approval, saying that waiting years for the opportunity to vote someone off the City Council was too long.

The referendum vote on the municipal budget was repealed under Section 704 of the Charter, which states that this happens automatically if the average voter participation in the Budget Validation Referendum over a five-year period is less than 25% of voter participation in the most recent gubernatorial election.

Citizens can petition to get the municipal budget on the ballot, but it requires the signatures of 5% of the City’s registered voters to be gathered within 30 days. The Committee discussed whether that figure should be lowered.

25% of the vote in the last gubernatorial election is also required to vote down the school budget, which is still approved by voter referendum. The purpose of requiring this percentage is to prevent a very small group of voters from overturning the budget.

No decisions were made on changes to the Charter. The Committee will continue its discussions on Monday, April 11 at 10:15 a.m. The public is welcome to attend in person or via Zoom. Comments may also be submitted here. Any amendments to the Charter will have to be approved by voters in November.

Copyright © 2024 - Sanford Springvale News - All rights reserved. | CoverNews by AF themes.