Board’s reaction mixed on ending town meeting

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WILTON – Whether the town is ready to change from the annual town meeting to a referendum vote raised varying opinions when the Board of Selectmen discussed the issue Tuesday.

Resident Ron Cushman asked to change the town meeting to a secret-ballot-style vote because the town meeting doesn’t work. Meetings only draw around 60 people who then make decisions for the whole town, he told selectmen. The fire and police departments come in and once they get what they want, people leave the meeting, he said.

The referendum-style town meeting would offer informational meetings prior to the vote that would let people decide issues by secret ballot.

Rather than five people (the board) making decisions, some decisions need more of a public forum, said Selectman Terry Brann, who spoke favorably of letting the people decide.

Chairman Paul Gooch and Selectman Irving Faunce both expressed their appreciation of town meetings, saying that “it’s democracy at its best.”

Gooch, who referred to his experience with SAD 9 informational meetings and budget votes, said once people defeat an issue with a secret vote, the town then doesn’t know what the people want to do from there. It takes another referendum to resolve the issue.

Attendance at the informational meetings was also an issue, Gooch said. This past June, SAD 9 had a budget public hearing where no one showed up, and last year there was one with only two or three people in attendance to learn about the budget.

“There’s no evidence that the town wants this. There’s no signed petition. It doesn’t appear to be a pressing issue,” said Faunce, who expressed reluctance to place a choice of action on the November referendum.

The board decided to hold a public hearing on the matter and said if people feel strongly about the issue, then they will come out for that meeting. The board will then make the decision on whether to place it on the November referendum based on the results of that meeting.

In other business, Alfred J. Cooper IV and Richard E. Caton IV, newly employed police officers with the town, had made a request to the board to waive the 50-cent-per-hour reduction in pay during their probationary period due to their experience in law enforcement, and reduction in pay and expense to move to Wilton. Officer Joshua King had not requested the waiver because he is still in training and new to law enforcement.

The board reviewed the request and chose to adhere to the rates stipulated in their contract, Town Manager Peter Nielsen said Wednesday.

The board also discussed the future of the primary school. According to the new town evaluations, the school was valued at $370,000, Nielsen said, and the board decided that when the town obtains ownership of the building, a commercial broker would be found to pursue interest in lease or purchase of the property.

Nielsen reported to the board that FEMA funds in the amount of $39,628.28 had been received by the town to repair Pond Road that was damaged during a heavy rain in April.

He also advised the board that Planning Board Chairman Keith Swett had submitted his resignation, effective immediately.

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