LIVERMORE FALLS — Town meeting referendum ballots will have recommendations from both selectmen and the Budget Committee, select board Chairman Bill Demaray said Wednesday.

Those recommendations will be listed as either “yes” or “no.”

The warrant and town report will list the Budget Committee’s recommendation in a dollar amount, he said.

Budget Committee Chairman Scott Roberts asked selectmen on Monday to get a written legal opinion on whether the Committee’s recommended dollar amount could appear on the ballot as members wanted. Demaray explained that it would appear as a “yes” or “no” and dollar amounts would be included in the warrant and town report.

Demaray did get a legal opinion on Wednesday from Maine Municipal Association staff attorney Susanne F. Pilgrim.

Pilgrim wrote that “Maine law does not specifically say in what form the ballot recommendations must appear, only that they must be included on the ballot.”

The law states: 

 “B. If a particular article to be voted on by secret ballot requests an appropriation of money by the municipality, the article, when printed in the warrant and on the ballot, must be accompanied by a recommendation of the municipal officers.

“(1) If by town meeting vote or charter provision, a budget committee has been established to review proposed town expenditures, the recommendations of the budget committee shall be printed in addition to those of the municipal officers. …”

“Since Maine law does not provide any specific guidance and you have no budget committee ordinance specifying the form of the committee’s recommendations, I think the recommendations on the ballot can be in either a ‘yes/no’ format or a number format as the selectmen prefer,” Pilgrim wrote. “Probably most people assume that the recommendations will appear in the form of a number actually recommended by the selectmen and the budget committee. That is the view taken by our Town Meetings & Elections Manual.”

However, as the referendum questions themselves require only a “yes” or “no” vote on the ballot and no changes can be made to the appropriations by voters, it might be more helpful to voters if the recommendations are in a “yes/no” format, she said. 

Pilgrim used an example that Demaray sent to her to show how a question would read on the ballot:

“Shall the town raise and appropriate $384,096 for the police department?

Selectmen Recommend: Yes

Budget Committee Recommends: No”

“Legally, I think you can choose either format and the selectmen generally have the authority to determine the wording of the warrant,” Pilgrim said. “Politically, you could consider the budget committee’s preferences as well. The key is that you be consistent and have all recommendations appear in the same format — either yes/no or numbers.”

She also clarified for Demaray what happens if an article fails.

At that point the selectmen have several choices, Pilgrim said.

“The selectmen can do without the money in the budget. Or, if the selectmen wish to seek approval for the budget item they must call a new town meeting. The selectmen can call either an open town meeting, on 7 days notice, or another referendum meeting, on 45 days notice,” she said. 

Selectmen can rewrite the article as they wish and do not have to use the same wording, she said. 

There is no requirement that the Budget Committee’s recommendations appear on an open town meeting warrant unless a town ordinance so requires. The extent to which an article can be amended depends on how it is phrased, Pilgrim said. 

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