Council OKs Charter Change Question For November Ballot

An explanation of the Charter Revision proposal approved for this November’s ballot was approved by the Legislative Council during its meeting on Wednesday, September 19.

Now that the explanatory text has passed the Legislative Council, Chairman Jeff Capeci said it will also need to be approved by legal counsel before it can be provided to the public.

The council plans to make an effort to make the explanation available to voters in a number of ways. Council Vice Chair Mary Ann Jacob suggested asking Superintendent of Schools Janet Robinson to send the explanation out to school district parents, and supported Mr Capeci’s idea to speak to local news media.

Councilman Paul Lundquist suggested providing a rationale behind the change for voters, but Mr Capeci warned that could boarder on advocating.

“I think we should attempt to do that as long as we are not advocating,” said Mr Lundquist.

First Selectman Pat Llodra also said she thinks it is important the Legislative Council is prepared with an explanation behind why the change was made before answering questions from the public on the change.

The council’s ultimate goal is to help guide voters to decide if the Newtown Charter should split binding operating budgets between the school district and the municipality; add nonbinding advisory questions to help inform deliberations in the event one or both sides of the split budget fails; and eliminate a rarely used provision that could move the local budget to a public town meeting after a second referendum failure.

Looking Ahead To The Budget

Also during the meeting, Mr Capeci shared his hope to convene a “four-board meeting” that would bring the Legislative Council, Board of Selectman, Board of Finance, and Board of Education together at some point in mid-October to discuss the upcoming budget process for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

Mr Capeci asked his fellow council members to share their thoughts on what that meeting could entail, and he plans on sending a letter to each of the boards to set up the meeting.

Councilman Robert Merola said he would like the Legislative Council to set the direction of the next budget process by deciding on a cap for the overall budget. Councilman Mitch Bolinsky also supported setting a starting point for the budget process and said he would like to see the same level of detail delivered in the Board of Selectmen’s budget last year prepared by the Board of Education this year.

Saying she feels the first meeting will be a roundtable discussion of big picture ideas, Council member Kathy Fetchick said she would like to see the four boards discuss future plans and savings issues.

Member George Ferguson said the collaborative conversation should provide guidance, touching on a number of issues, from the referendum process to the economic health of the town.

Mr Capeci said the intention is for the Legislative Council, as the ultimate authority over the budget, to express expectations to the school board.

The important part, Ms Jacob said, is that the boards work collaboratively during the next budget cycle.

“It probably is only one meeting,” she said, “but we have to start somewhere.”

In terms of developing the budget, Mrs Llodra said the town and school district have already been working collaboratively, both administratively and financially.

The Legislative Council also approved a reappropriation, with some hesitation, to cover $12,000 for Dodgingtown Volunteer Fire Company to purchase two breathing apparatuses. After it was noted by a number of members that they do not like allowing funds from a previous year to be used for purchases the following year, Mr Capeci was the sole vote against the motion.

A special appropriation for $144,000 and the authorization of $180,000 of bonds to cover professional services for the first phase of the planned Hawley heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) project was also approved by the council during the meeting. A transfer of $250,000, made up by mostly by unpredicted revenue items from the 2011-12 fiscal year, was also approved to contribute to both the Other Post Employment Benefits account and to the fund balance.

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