PLYMOUTH - The Town Council has approved four Charter Revision Commission proposals to put on the November ballot, including one that would limit circumstances in which the town budget would be subject to referendum.
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 that is not more than three percent more or less than 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.
The commission’s proposal would allow the council to directly approve a budget that is not more than three percent more or less, without a referendum. If the proposed budget exceeds the three percent limit then it would go to one referendum. If it fails at referendum then the council could adopt a final budget as long as it was within the three percent up or down formula.
Commission Chairman Mark Malley said the idea is that as long as the council is already limited to three percent up or down a referendum is almost meaningless.
The council briefly discussed reducing the bar for skipping a referendum to a proposed budget that is not more than two or 2.5 percent more or less than the current year, before approving the commission’s recommendation in a split vote.
“I understand what the Charter Revision Commission wants to do and I think it’s an admirable idea but I don’t like the idea of taking the vote away from the people,” said council member Tom Zagurski.
“I’d like to send it to referendum just to allow the people to make a decision if they want the council to make these decisions or not,” Zagurski said.
“You’re damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” said fellow council member Daniel Gentile. “If you don’t put it on [the ballot] we don’t let people decide whether they want it or not. If you do put it on some people perceive it as we’re taking away everybody’s rights. That’s what’s going to be the perception but it’s not the actual truth.”
In the end Gentile and John Pajewski voted against the proposal, while Zagurski and Susan Murawski voted for it. With council member Ana LeGassey absent, Mayor David Merchant cast the tie-breaking yes vote.
The council unanimously approved a ballot question allowing town boards and commissions to include on their agendas public comment on non-agenda items, or in the case of the council on agenda and non-agenda items, and adopt a time limit for speakers.
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.
Malley has said that allowing unlimited public comment turns a council meeting into a public hearing and makes the meeting go longer than it should.
“It’s not really changing anything that the Town Council is doing right now,” Merchant said. “But it may change how some of the other boards or commission handle public comment.”
Other ballot questions unanimously approved would remove charter language pertaining to having a Board of Assessors and a Council Journal, both of which no longer exist.
At its Sept. 5 meeting, the council will discuss putting a non-binding advisory question on the ballot to see if people want the town to move to a town manager form of government.
Malley said the commission is willing to do the work of revising the charter to accommodate having a town manager, but he wanted to see if voters were interested first before they took such an “astronomical job.”
Town Clerk Barbara Rockwell said she needs to send any ballot questions for the upcoming municipal election to the state by Sept. 15.
Susan Corica can be reached at 860-973-1802 or email@example.com.