RUMFORD — Selectmen voted 4-1 Tuesday evening not to convene a special town meeting for voters to decide if they want to enact a proposed spending cap ordinance.
They believe the ordinance should be done through a charter change and not as an ordinance, based on town attorney Jennifer Kreckel's opinion of the spending cap petition.
Selectmen Chairman Greg Buccina and Selectmen Jolene Lovejoy and Jeff Sterling voted in favor of Selectman Brad Adley's motion to not approve a special town meeting on the spending cap ordinance. Selectman Frank DiConzo voted against it.
Local activist group SAVE Rumford has brought a revised tax-relief petition that seeks to impose a spending cap of $6.2 million.
At a previous board meeting, SAVE Rumford member Mark Belanger, a former selectman, said he firmly believes that capping spending would save the town in the future should the paper mill shut down for good.
Belanger said the spending cap would give taxpayers a 16 percent tax break and would help businesses. He said he believes a critical circumstance exists for selectmen accept the petition and put it before voters at a special town meeting.
Buccina opened the special board meeting by reading Kreckel's July 16 letter to Town Manager Carlo Puiia about the matter. She said the petitioners had the required amount of signatures.
Kreckel said a municipality does have the authority to establish a spending cap, which is a limit on the amount of money that may be appropriated as part of the total annual budget.
"It is still my legal opinion that in order for it to be binding on successive legislative bodies (annual votes of our voters in the future), it must be done by charter change," she said.
Kreckel said that should selectmen decide to approve a warrant for a special town meeting on the matter as an ordinance, if passed by voters, it would only bind the legislative body that passed it. Additionally, she said it would not be binding on future legislative bodies.
"However, if the spending cap is passed as a charter change, it is my legal opinion that it would be binding on future legislative bodies," she said.
Kreckel said the charter is the document that defines not only the structure of Rumford's town government, but it also defines the power of Rumford's town government.
"What is being proposed by the petition affects the fundamental power of our town government and legislative body," she said.
She gave the board two options: ignore the petition because it is proposing an ordinance rather than a charter change and/or because the action sought by the petition doesn't follow the procedure outlined in the charter, or issue a warrant for a special town meeting and let the voters approve or disapprove the ordinance.
However, if they chose the latter, Kreckel said she wouldn't sign the warrant because she believes it violates Rumford charter procedure on how an ordinance is to be enacted.
DiConzo said he wanted to allow the voters to decide the matter for the time being, and then in the future attempt to change the charter.
Resident and SAVE Rumford member Candace Casey accused the board and Puiia of violating the will of the people who signed the petition by refusing to call a special town meeting.
Kreckel said the case law that she reviewed states that enacting a spending cap on annual town budgets must be done through a charter change.
Belanger accused selectmen of not following the charter and said he believes Kreckel's opinion to be incorrect based on a legal opinion he received on the petition.
Selectmen decided to follow Kreckel's advice, prompting another remark from Casey that she was stunned to learn they were going to overrule the wishes of more than 550 petitioners.
That prompted Puiia to state that there were only 467 valid signatures on the petition. He said 93 signatures were not registered voters, seven were duplicates and one signature was forged.
The board voted. Afterward, Puiia said the petitioners tried to submit two photocopied pages of signatures from an older petition, one page having an April date and the other had a June date photocopied on it from the back of the other one.
After counting those signatures on the two rejected forms, he said 33 out of the 64 were duplicates from unacceptable petitions.