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Charter Revision Question to Appear on November Ballot

Pending approval from the Secretary of State, Newtown voters will be asked if they want to bifurcate (hold separate referendum votes) on the municipal and Board of Education budgets.


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.

Mary Ann Jacob August 30, 2012 at 10:37 PM
Hi Paul, the council agreed to present one question with four parts to the voters for approval in November. All parts will be listed on the ballot for review. 1. Bifurcated budget. 2. Advisory questions. 3. Eliminate the charter provision that calls for a town meeting after a failed budget unless a voter petitions a referendum and allow the budget to go back to the voters. 4. Only have the failed side or sides of the budget to the voters, binding the vote that passed. this is a summary, not how the ballot will look... The questions ask " do you deem the proposed sum of XXXX to be appropriated for the board of Education too low?" and you answer yes or no. And "Do you deem the proposed sum of XXXX to be appropriated for the Board of Selectman to be too low?" and you answer yes or no. So, the results will indicate too high or too low for each budget. You can answer the advisory questions even if you voted yes so your feelings are know if it fails. Does that help? I am not speaking on behalf of the council.
Alex Tytler August 31, 2012 at 12:21 AM
The bifurcated budget gives us twice the controll we had before. Making each side independently binding is a good thing.
Cheryl Lynne O August 31, 2012 at 06:13 AM
I am honestly not sure if this is a good idea or not. Reading some of the other comments, yes, the education budget in Newtown is bloated; much like it is in Westchester County, or Long Island's Nassau and Suffolk Counties in New York. All of which, by the way, have bifurcated budgets; the Town of Hempstead, NY being a example. Yet, when compared to other places like Bridgeport or here in Las Cruces, New Mexico; Newtown's schools seem to offer more of a quality education. [ Perhaps because the teachers are well-paid and earn over $80K a year?]. New Mexico, said my professor today, has a graduation rate of 17%; Newtown High can boast of an 86% rate of students going on to higher education. A huge difference between the[ mostly] barrio neighborhoods of Ciudad Las Cruces en Estado Neuva Mejico; and Newtown, Connecticut, of course.
E.V. August 31, 2012 at 02:25 PM
There are multiple factors affecting graduation rates. You are falling into the trap set by the public education system that the only way to get a good education is to continue to suck the taxpayers dry and spend more and more money. If you want to improve the graduation rates of students, especially disadvantaged students, give them school choice and get them out of the public school system. One other thing, do not belive everything your professor tells you. Check the facts for yourself.
Dirk Pitt September 03, 2012 at 09:28 PM
The proposal put forward by the Charter Revision Committee will not solve a thing. It focuses on areas that the commission’s own research shows don’t work while completely ignoring the items their research shows matter. This entire exercise appears to me more focused on reducing noise from voters and much less on implementing any meaningful change. If are charter is amended as recommended my the Commission and the Legistative Council it will only mean voters lose their right to vote on a complete budget package. A complete analysis if the commissions findings can be found at the link below: http://www.inewtown.com/phpbb/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=113&p=114#p114

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