Watching the Town Council come up with the charter language that would change the way the financial town referendum (FTR) works, a viewer may have gotten the impression of two contradictory intentions. On one hand, they’ll swear that the changes are relatively small — just a few tweaks to improve it. On the other hand, they talk about how crazy it is to let the people propose budgets for voters to consider, and they clearly don’t like what voters have been doing in the past few years.
The council came up with multiple ways to gut the FTR, but two changes would grab power not only away from voters, but also from the Budget Committee. If Question #11 passes:
- Neither the Budget Committee nor electors who might put in independent budget petitions would be able to touch any “debt service or expenditures governed by contracts” that the council places in the budget. Depending how this language is enforced, that could be 96% of the budget! And it doesn’t mean only debt or contract obligations to which the town is already committed. Notice that it doesn’t say “preexisting” debt or contracts. If the Town Council wanted to buy an airplane on debt, the Budget Committee and electors would apparently have to leave it in the budget, and taxpayers would have to vote to allow it.
- Neither the Budget Committee nor electors would be permitted to make different assumptions about revenue that the town can expect in the budget. So, if the council wanted to restrict alternative budgets beyond the 96%, all it would have to do is underestimate revenue and voila! Moreover, any revenue that the council wants to spend for its own priorities, it could simply leave out of the estimate, preventing voters from deciding to spend it on anything else.