RUMFORD — Has Rumford outgrown its 59-year-old charter?
That's what Selectman Greg Buccina asked of Selectmen Mark Belanger, Jeff Sterling and Chairman Brad Adley, and Town Manager Carlo Puiia at Wednesday night's workshop on their proposed charter change for the secret ballot process.
Buccina voiced frustration with the charter, saying that it created the current situation wherein it's been more than three months beyond town meeting in June and two outstanding items to resolve remain: a General Assistance Budget that voters have twice defeated and Black Mountain funding.
The latter was resolved at town meeting when a majority voted against funding the ski hill. However, Black Mountain officials then successfully petitioned for another vote, claiming that more people voted to fund it than not fund it; they just couldn't agree on an amount.
The revote itself was challenged in court and a judge ruled that it must be addressed by having a town meeting to discuss the issue, then vote on it later at the polls.
On the welfare issue, after a majority of voters twice defeated amounts recommended by selectmen, the board learned it had unwittingly violated the charter in the second vote by not allowing the Finance Committee to make a recommendation on the budget item.
“I would like to know how much money this charter has cost us in this budget process,” Buccina said. “Because I just don't know whether it's worth it or not anymore. Can we not have a charter? We're getting smaller and I just don't know if we really need to have a charter anymore.”
He said charter language has delayed the budget process, forcing more meetings and litigation, thereby costing the town additional expense.
“I just don't know how needed it is today in this day and age,” Buccina said.
He said many Maine towns no longer have a charter “and still seem to get their business done.”
“We're not a metropolis and this confuses everything, and it was needed (back then), but it just seems to be impeding progress now,” he said.
Belanger, who has publicly stood behind and protected the charter as is, conceded that it could be written better.
“It's been tweaked over the years and sections of it have been changed, so it could be a cleaner charter,” he said. “But if we have another charter, it should be similar to that. But the issue tonight is changing the secret ballot process.”
Puiia said the board now had an opportunity to simplify the document.
They could either go with his suggested change to give voters a yes or no choice only, with yes containing funding amounts; or they could side with Sterling's and Buccina's proposal to follow the charter process, and then insert language that calls for a Budget Reconciliation meeting should selectmen and the Finance Committee recommend differing amounts.
At that meeting, the two groups would work out one recommendation with which a majority agreed and present that to the people at town meeting.
“It may not be the perfect solve, but it could ultimately help eliminate the controversy,” he said. “People can still vote for funding, but a majority could still trump it.”
After more discussion, Puiia was asked to draft language for the change and then have town attorney Thomas Carey determine its legality and that of how it meshes with town ordinances separate from the charter.
Puiia said he would do that and ask Carey if the board also needs to tweak an ordinance to accommodate a charter change.
Selectmen want to put their charter change proposal before voters in November.
Following the workshop, Black Mountain Board of Directors President Roger Arsenault said the delayed vote on their request for $51,000, wasn't cutting it close to ready the resort for the upcoming season. Black Mountain traditionally opens the day after Christmas.
“We're doing what we can with what we have,” Arsenault said.
Should voters approve funding next month, he said it would take two months with additional staff to get the resort ready to open for the 2010-11 season. If they don't get the funding, Arsenault has publicly stated that it would force Black Mountain to close.