Westbrook to return to town meeting for budget vote

By Eric O’Connell/Zip06.com • 03/16/2022 08:15 AM EST

The Board of Selectman (BOS) made the decision to once again vote the city’s budget by municipal assembly rather than by referendum. The date for the vote on the budget has not yet been set.

In 2016, the BOS made the decision to stop conducting the annual budget approval process by referendum and instead use a town meeting format. The reason given at the time by the first coach at the time, Noel Bishop, was the drop in turnout in the referendum. While budget votes in nearby Westbrook, Clinton, have garnered attention for the past decade, the same brouhaha has never crossed the city limit to Westbrook. In 2015, only 245 voters went to the polls in the referendum from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., which led the municipality to decide to vote in the form of a municipal assembly.

Municipal assemblies take much less time both to conduct and set up and are less expensive than an all-day referendum, although referendums traditionally provide a 14-hour window for voters to participate. while a municipal assembly requires participation at a specific time.

However, the pandemic has changed things. In 2020, with uncertainty about how to handle the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, an executive order gave cities the ability to pass the budgets on their own after a public hearing was held.

In 2021, the vote returned and the city again held a referendum, as first coach John Hall explained to the Harbor News, “people weren’t really coming together because of COVID, so rather than having people in one room, we held a referendum”.

Fewer than 100 people voted in last year’s referendum.

Hall said one of the big benefits of returning to municipal assembly voting is the ability for the city to re-publish a guide to citizen voting.

“They’re useful and we can’t release one if we have a referendum,” Hall said.

The citizen’s guide is intended to inform voters before their vote on the budget and the state of the municipality’s finances. State guidelines direct the city to remain neutral in its presentation of budget details in any summary material presented to voters.

Hall said no date has yet been set for the town hall. At press time, the proposed budget is still in progress.

The Finance Council will hold an extraordinary meeting scheduled for Wednesday, March 30 at 6:30 p.m. to send a draft budget to voters.

On Monday, April 11 at 6:30 p.m., the City will hold a public hearing on the draft budgets.

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