New Milford charter commission gets to work
Published 12:00 am, Wednesday, March 21, 2018
NEW MILFORD — Town residents have suggested a wide range of topics for consideration by the recently appointed Charter Review Commission, from creating the post of town manager to expanding the role of the finance board to combining the planning and zoning commissions.
Councilman Paul Szymanski, who chairs the 12-member commission, said he hopes a revision will eliminate confusion in the charter about several important issues.
The town charter requires the document to be reviewed every five years, but it has been 12 years since the last review commission was appointed.
During a public hearing last week, one of the major topics discussed was whether New Milford should hire a town manager, and if so, whether that position should be in addition to or in place of that of the mayor. Many at last Wednesday’s meeting supported creating the position.
“This town has grown beyond what a mayor in a two-year term is presumed to handle,” said Carlos Caridad, who served on the last Charter Revision Commission.
Jeff Winter said an experienced, high-caliber town manager could handle ordinary administration, freeing the mayor — perhaps a part-time one — to focus on larger policy issues.
“Now you have people who are really smart to run the town, while someone with experience can run the day-to-day,” Winter said, adding that town managers are common in his native state of Minnesota.
Others agreed, adding that the mayor’s existing two-year term isn’t long enough to accomplish much, given the learning curve for someone new to the job. Another
suggestion was to extend the term limits to four years for the mayor and council members.
Several residents also suggested the commission look at the role of the finance board in overseeing use of capital reserves and bond proceeds, and especially in revising the budget in the event voters reject it. Town Council is at present the only body to revisit the budget after a voter rejection.
Some speakers also suggested that if voters reject either the town or school budget that only the failing budget needs to be revisited, instead of both, as is now required.
Another request was to discuss whether the charter should include language concerning special funds, including who has the authority to draw from them. The suggestion was prompted by recent arguments over the use of the landfill settlement fund.
Other topics suggested included setting rules for replacing third-party elected officials who resign mid-term. The commission will also look at the size of appointed commissions, the length of their terms and start dates.
The commission will meet on April 4, April 18, May 2 and May 16, although more dates might be added depending on the workload. Each meeting is expected to focus on one topic and include opportunities for public comment, as well as presentations from department heads or counterparts from other towns with experience in such topics.
”We’re looking to make it a constructive dialogue every meeting,” Szymanski said, adding any other ideas can be emailed to email@example.com.
Another public hearing will be scheduled once the commission completes a draft document but before it is sent to Town Council for a public hearing. The proposed charter amendment is expected to be included on the ballot in November.
“The more people who get involved with the charter and have a voice, the more will be invested in the end product,” Taylor said.