Rumford charter group begins work on budget approval process

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RUMFORD — Charter Commission members began addressing the budget approval process at Tuesday night’s meeting.

They voted unanimously to preserve final approval of the budget at the polls, Chairman Kevin Saisi said Tuesday night with member Amy Bernard absent.

Then the commission addressed ballot design.

“Many thought that having a single (budget) number on the ballot would be best and avoid a split vote,” he said.

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The charter currently gives voters three options if recommendations by selectmen and the Finance Committee differ: Vote ‘yes’ for the selectmen’s recommendation, vote ‘yes’ for the Finance Committee’s recommendation or ‘no’ for neither. For the past few years, people voting ‘no’ have controlled the vote despite a higher majority voting in favor of either the selectmen’s or Finance Committee’s numbers.

Previously, the commission had received comments from residents wanting only the budget number from selectmen on the ballot, which is how Mexico does its ballot. That would make the Finance Committee an advisory-only group.

Saisi said the commission discussed having a defeated budget default to the previous year’s budget, less 15 percent.

“But many considered that to be unwise and, perhaps, micromanaging the selectmen,” he said.

The concept of holding an earlier town meeting to choose between the Finance Committee’s and selectmen’s recommendations was also discussed. However, the commission determined that it would push budget preparations back way too early in Rumford’s fiscal year, causing an undue burden on department heads, Saisi said.

The commission also discussed which, if any, portions of the ordinances should be incorporated into the charter.

“Many really good ideas were expressed, and the commission will be reviewing each in further detail at the next meeting,” Saisi said.

Time permitting, they additionally plan to discuss providing a mechanism to allow residents to enact a tax cap.

Last year, former Rumford Selectman Mark Belanger introduced the “Tax Relief” petition on April 3 at The Concerned Rumford Taxpayers Group meeting.

The petition sought to create an ordinance to cap the property tax rate at $17.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation for each fiscal year, beginning July 1. The tax rate then was $24.25.

Belanger told selectmen that given the financial burden of high property taxes on businesses and homeowners, petitioners believed it met the charter’s ‘critical circumstance’ existence clause. Selectmen decided otherwise.

After more meetings between the two groups, more petitions and eventually a proposed spending cap ordinance, selectmen, through town attorney Jennifer Kreckel, decided that a spending cap could only be implemented with a charter change and not with an ordinance.

The Charter Commission  meets at 6 p.m. on the first and third Tuesdays of each month in the Municipal Building Conference Room near the police station.

tkarkos@sunjournal.com

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