PLYMOUTH - The Town Council will hold a public hearing on Charter Revision Commission proposals that would simplify the town budget process and allow restrictions on public comment during public meetings.
The commission is also recommending a referendum question on the election ballot to find out whether voters are interested in moving to a town manager form of government.
The hearing will be Thursday, Aug. 10, at 6:30 p.m., in the Town Hall community room.
Mark Malley, commission chairman, presented the draft of the proposed budget process changes to the council this week.
“Essentially what we’re saying is if the proposed budget is not more than 3 percent up or down from the previous year’s approved budget, the council can adopt it,” he said. “If it’s proposed to be 3 percent more up or down, then it has to go to one referendum. If it fails at referendum, then the council can adopt a budget, but once again it has to be within that 3 percent formula, up or down.”
“The referendum process we currently have says that if the budget is rejected twice the council has the authority to go up or down 3 percent. If the budget is within that parameter, there would be no need to have any referendum,” he said.
Currently, the charter allows up to two budget referendums each year. If the budget is rejected a second time, the council is authorized to adopt a budget not to exceed 3 percent of the current year budget. For the past three years the proposed budget has failed at referendum twice before the council ended up passing a final budget.
Malley said the commission also discussed at length the issue of public comment. If the council and town boards and commissions include on their agenda public comment on non-agenda items, or in the case of the council on agenda and non-agenda items, then they can adopt a time limit for speakers.
He noted that the rules may differ for Inland/Wetlands Conservation Commission and the Planning & Zoning Commission because they are subject to state regulations.
The reasoning behind limiting public comment is a council meeting is not a public hearing, he said. “We felt that public comment throughout the meeting turns the council meeting into a public hearing and makes the meeting go longer than it should.”
The council used to allow public comment throughout its meetings however it has imposed some restrictions in recent years which some members of the public have contested.
It’s important to have public comment, but at the start of the meeting so there isn’t constant back and forth on every item on the agenda, Malley stressed.
Many people have asked the commission members about hiring a town manager, but that’s an “astronomical job” for a commission to have to rewrite the entire charter to accommodate that change before asking the voters if that’s what they want, he said.
“We’re just reluctant to take that on without some indication that that’s something everybody is interested in,” he said. “I will go on record saying I’m not interested but that doesn’t mean other people aren’t.”
Council member Daniel Gentile said, “I do support the town manager question, I think that should be there.”
Malley said the commission also recommended removing charter language pertaining to a Board of Assessors and a Council Journal, both of which no longer exist.
Mayor David Merchant said the council needs to have any charter revision questions on the upcoming municipal election ballot ready by Sept. 15.
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or firstname.lastname@example.org.