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.

Paul Alexander August 30, 2012 at 12:09 PM
This does not seem to be a very transparent evolution. In fact, this smells REALLY bad. The voters are only allowed to vote on ONE question, To bifurcate the budget or not. "The Newtown Legislative Council voted Wednesday night to put a single question on the November ballot." Yet, according to the article above, a "Yes" vote on that ONE question triggers all sorts of other actions and advisory questions that the taxpayers are not given the opportunity to vote on directly!!! Again, from the article above... "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." There needs to be MUCH more disclosure on this Bifurcation ballot initiative.
Alex Tytler August 30, 2012 at 12:43 PM
FINALLY!!! Kudos to the commission, and I told you so to the naysayers.
Kevin Fitzgerald August 30, 2012 at 12:45 PM
I support bifurcation of the budgets, however making the referendum "binding" will create issues that "non-binding" would avoid. New information during budget season changes both budgets and those changes have allowed town and school officials to update, modify and tighten their budgets accordingly before the next referendum (assuming the budgets do not pass at the first referendum). In fact, these changes can be as much as hundreds of thousands of dollars in new found money or savings, or, as happened this past spring, the late news of new special education requirements contributed to killing Full Day Kindergarten. Let's not forget that it took the failure of the first referendum before nearly a million dollars in extra funds in the town budget were understood by voters. Had that budget "passed" and been "locked-in" on the first attempt while the school budget request was gutted by $1 million, town officials would NOT have had the options they did to reassign funds internally to create a better balance. Make the referendums "non-binding" so that officials have more options to accomodate what the voters direct them to do.
Len Destin August 30, 2012 at 01:05 PM
Props to John Godin for organizing and the team for getting this done. Seems like we should have more hard deadlines in government works. Additional questions and a split budget mean better due process, hopefully more transparency and substantive dialogue about the town's expenditures -- just wouldn't expect the politics and politicians to go away though.
Ray Ruzek August 30, 2012 at 01:11 PM
Finally, a step towards improved transparency and accountability.
Bruce Walczak TheNewtownRooster.com August 30, 2012 at 04:18 PM
Finally this Commission understood what the taxpayers want. Not sure about binding votes. The budget is a moving target and being able to adjust each side until the right mix is found might be a better idea.
Kevin Fitzgerald August 30, 2012 at 04:36 PM
I am pleased that the Council has supported this Commission's recommendations. I would have preferred to see it as "non-binding" because that would provide officials with greater flexibility and far more options to follow through on the voters instructions without one "yet-to-be-aproved" budget suffering at the expense of the "approved and locked-in" budget. I think officials will come to regret that they will not be able to make the constructive choices that the "non-binding" model would afford them. It is what it is. I thank the Charter Change Commission members for their work. Finally, voters will be heard and their preference recorded. I expect this recommendation will pass overwhelmingly in November, in time for next budget season. Note to ALL interest groups....should one or both of these two budgets fail at the first referendum, it's safe to assume that the Legislative Council will unanimously support the direction given them on the ballots (too low or too high). So if you care enough about how one or both budgets are funded, put your energies into the initial budget preparation process. Encourage collaboration, partnership, transparency and communication. Write to elected officials at each stage of the budget review process. Don't wait for the Public Hearings. And then show up to vote and bring five people with you. Let's get a good budget that we can pass on the first try. Because after that, it's Majority Rules.
Paul Alexander August 30, 2012 at 04:51 PM
Still need more meat on the reporting of this issue. Perhaps The Bee will provide that. The budget bifurcation ballot initiative SHOULD transfer more power to the taxpayers. But from what I read above, this Bifurcation initiative is only being presented as IF it gives more power to the taxpayers when in reality it takes power away from the taxpayers. Bill Theissen is quoted in the article and he seems to smell the same rat I do. John Godin's response to Mr. Theissen's public hearing question reported above is comical in a circular logic sort of way. There’s not enough details reported here...and when details are withheld, something usually stinks. I smell politicians trying to pull a fast one. Will Newtown taxpayers have to pass the Bifurcation ballot initiative first before they know what’s in it???
Sam Mihailoff August 30, 2012 at 05:31 PM
What Alex said
E.V. August 30, 2012 at 06:28 PM
Who are they kidding? This is another back door attempt by the blackmailers known as the Board of Education to siphon more money from from the taxpayers to support the bloated education budget. Scaring parents into believing that if you don't give more and more money your kids can't be educated. This year education received approximately 66% of the total budget. If this revision goes through who knows what it will be next year. Vote NO on the revision and vote NO on the budgets until someone in this town has the courage to say enough is enough.
Len Destin August 30, 2012 at 08:44 PM
Huh? You preferred reliving the same debacle we had this year over again? Its a step in a better direction and better than doing nothing.
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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