A ballot question in the November election will give Newtown voters the choice to bifurcate the municipal and Board of Education budgets, which town officials hope will prevent a repeat of this year’s tumultuous budget process that required five referendum votes to pass a town budget.
Bifurcate means to separate the Board of Education budget from the budget for town departments, and voters would then cast a separate vote for each one — unlike the process now in which voters can say yes or no to a total budget.
The Newtown Legislative Council voted Wednesday night to put a single question on the November ballot, although bifurcation is only one part of the recommendation presented this month by the Charter Revision Commission.
If approved, the ballot question would also require that once passed, a municipal or school budget would be binding and could not be increased or cut. It would eliminate the provision requiring a town meeting prior to each subsequent budget referendum vote, which is intended to speed up the process. And it would add advisory questions asking if voters thought either the municipal or school budgets were too low.
The wording of the ballot question and charter revision language won’t be finalized until next week, when the Legislative Council is expected to vote on it at its Sept. 5 meeting.
That gives town officials barely enough time to meet the Sept. 7 deadline for submitting the ballot question and charter revision wording to the Connecticut Secretary of the State’s office, which must give its OK for it to appear on the town ballot.
Council Chairman Jeffrey Capeci noted that the vote in November would only require a simple majority for approval, and not a minimum of 15 percent of town voters as the budget referendums have.
Newtown's 2012-13 budget was approved two weeks into the new fiscal year, on the fifth referendum after a series of cuts. On the heels of that approval, town officials convened a Charter Revision Commission, which was given only about a month to research the complicated issue, debate it and make recommendations to the Legislative Council.
The provision for advisory questions was added because town officials believed some voters voted against the proposed budgets in opposition to cuts to the school budget.
Bill Theissen of Currituck Road, the only town resident to speak at the public hearing on the charter question, questioned why the advisory questions wouldn’t also ask voters if they thought the proposed budgets were too high. Council member Robert Merola pressed for an answer during the special meeting that followed the public hearing.
Commission member John Godin said the research indicated that typically budget’s are turned down by voters who think the amount is too high, so the only reason to ask an advisory question was to find out how many voters might have opposed it for the opposite reason.
Capeci and several other Council members thanked the Charter Revision Commission for its achievement, and he indicated he might reappoint it in October to review other charter revision issues.