New Milford charter revisions focus on finances
NEW MILFORD — The budget process could look different next year based on proposed revisions to the Town Charter that would send a failed budget back to the finance board instead of the Town Council.
A public hearing was held this week, but the Town Council will hold its own public hearing as well before the changes appear on the ballot in November.
The bulk of the revisions submitted by the charter review commission are connected to town finances.
The charter was last revised in 2006, though the document itself calls for a review every five years.
The Town Council created the 12-member commission in February and tasked the group with looking into possible changes, including hiring a town manager, combining the planning and zoning commissions, restoring the finance board’s responsibilities, looking into appointed board members’ terms, incorporating the code of ethics in the charter and changing the town clerk and tax collector from elected to appointed positions.
Of these, only the changes to the finance board and terms were recommended by the commission.
Some changes at a glance
Under the proposal, the board would regain the responsibilities in place before the 2006 revision. This means, a failed budget would go back to the finance board instead of Town Council. The latter could make a change only if five members call for a special meeting and two-thirds of the council adopt the change.
The revised charter would also provide more options for voters to choose from when answering the advisory questions about the proposed spending levels in the budget.
Councilman Paul Szymanski, who chairs the commission, said the current budget process is different than the process in the majority of other towns.
“Town Council and the Board of Finance are two distinct offices, each with distinct responsibilities,” he said. “Town Council is an extension of the legislative authority and the Board of Finance is a fiduciary body.”
The commission also proposed adding a seventh elected member and third appointed alternate member to the board so there is an odd number and the mayor won’t be needed to break a tie. Appointed members don’t cast votes.
“It’s not saying there’s no chance of a tie, but it decreases that,” Szymanski said. “We feel the board should be able to make a decision without the mayor.”
Another financial change is to lower the cost of a supplemental appropriation that would require a town meeting, giving residents more control over the town’s money. The changes also require the finance director to get approval from the finance board on investment decisions.
Szymanski said this was necessary because New Milford doesn’t have a treasurer to be the “second set of eyes” and unilateral decision-making on special funds and investments has hurt the town in the past.
Terms for appointed boards and commissions would be unified under the changes, with members serving four years with Feb. 1 start dates.
The rest of the changes proposed cleaned up language and the organization within the charter to make the regulations’ intent clearer.
Charter commission members said they didn’t support combining planning and zoning into one group because each is working fine on its own and it wouldn’t create a lot of efficiencies.
The council remained unsure about whether to consider the change anyway. Some members said it would speed up zone changes. If taken up by the council, the issue could still be a change residents vote on later.
The commission also decided to not switch from a mayor to town manager style of government, pointing to how the model has failed in the last seven attempts within Connecticut.