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Selectmen have one objection to Weston charter change proposal

The Board of Selectmen is in agreement with most of the changes made to the town charter by the Charter Revision Commission, with one big exception.

The commission has recommended changing the charter to require the annual budget go to a referendum after the Annual Town Budget Meeting. At the machine vote, the new charter would have voters vote for the school budget and a combined town operating and capital budget.

At a meeting June 21, First Selectman Gayle Weinstein and Selectman David Muller agreed that they do not want to see the capital and town operating budgets voted on as one item.

“I support all the conclusions and recommendations made by the commission with the exception of the way the voting would work with the items that would go from ATBM to referendum,” Mr. Muller said.

He would like to see three items on the referendum ballot, he said: the town operating budget, the school operating budget, and the capital budget, which includes both town and school projects.

First Selectman Gayle Weinstein agreed, saying she would prefer the capital budget to only be voted on at the ATBM (and not have it go to referendum). She said, however, if that is not an option, she hopes the commission would “at the very least consider decoupling the town operating and the school and town capital budgets.”

Ms. Weinstein said one disadvantage of asking voters to vote up or down on a combined budget is town officials would not know what voters were objecting to if it were to be voted down — they may be opposed to an item in the capital budget, or they may simply feel the overall increase of the town operating budget is too high, she said.

If an operating budget needs to be decreased, the town has the ability to move money between line items, Ms. Weinstein said. With a capital budget it can’t do that — either a project is funded or it’s not, she pointed out.

Mr. Muller addressed a few other issues that the public has discussed at several public hearings about the proposed charter changes.

For example, he said he agrees with the commission’s decision to change the tax collector to an appointed position rather than an elected one, likening it to the positions of town administrator, library director or land use director, all of which are professionals hired — not elected — by the town.

Mr. Muller also agreed with the commission’s recommendation to require a quorum at the ATBM, something to which many people have objected.

He said the change to a “built-in referendum” serves as a “disincentive to show up at the ATBM.” The quorum requirement would help to stress the importance of participating in the ATBM, especially for those who like to see changes made to the budget before ti is sent to the voters. (The lack of a quorum would mean the budget would automatically be approved to go to referendum as is.)

Selectman Dennis Tracey did not participate in the Board of Selectmen’s discussion of the charter because he also sits on the Charter Revision Commission as its co-chairman.

Both of the other selectmen praised the commission for its diligent work.

“David and I would like to congratulate the commission on a job well done. We believe the commission took [its] charge very seriously, reviewed every word in the current charter and listened to the residents of Weston. Ultimately, you produced a document that reflects the time and effort that was undertaken,” said a memo from Ms. Weinstein to the commission.

The Charter Review Commission now has 30 days to respond to the selectmen’s request that it revisit the capital budget issue.

Once the commission responds, the Board of Selectmen has 15 days to either accept the commission’s report send the charter changes to the voters, or to reject it in its entirety.

If the selectmen reject it, there is a procedure by which members of the public could petition to put the recommendations on the Nov. 6 ballot anyway.

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