"Real liberty is neither found in despotism or the extremes of democracy, but in moderate governments.
Alexander Hamilton

Saturday, February 21, 2015

How the ABC Came to Be

( Note: My personal opinion is the ABC does a very good job for the town. They have taken some very tough positions particularly in regard to the schools over the years and took quite a bit of heat for it. They have also caused many positive changes since their inception . My reason for suggesting  a response to their 2015 Town Budget report was to enlighten voters as to what the BoS has done to date and what it plans to do in response to the ABC suggestions. Some we agreed with and some we didn't. History is critical in order to gain proper perspective of why things evolved as they did.)

It all started with a petitioned warrant article at 2007 Town Meeting.
The following is from the 2007 Town Meeting minutes:
 To see if the Town shall establish an elected municipal budget committee in accordance with NH  RSA – Title 32, Chapter 3. The budget committee shall consist of five (5) members elected at-large, one  (1) member of the governing body of the municipality and one (1) member of the school board. If adopted,  the Moderator shall appoint members to serve until the next annual meeting, as provided in RSA 669:17.  (The vote on this Article shall be by paper ballot; the Polls shall remain open and ballots accepted for at  least one hour.) 
(By Petition) 
A motion was made by Chris Shipp and seconded by Richard Plaisted. After discussion a motion was made by Richard Buckler and seconded by Kathy Erving to amend  the article to read: 
 To see if the moderator will appoint 5 registered voters to a committee to study the effects of a  municipal budget committee on the Town of Moultonborough. The committee shall report to the Board of  Selectmen by November 1, 2007. The selectmen shall make the report public and available to all residents. The amendment was voted in the affirmative by a hand vote. 
 Yes 200 No 126  The article as amended was voted on in the affirmative by a majority voice vote. 

A committee was indeed appointed and the following was published in the Meredith News in January  2008:

by Sarah Schmidt
Staff Reporter

January 10, 2008
MOULTONBORO — The Board of Selectmen voted to create an Advisory Budget Committee to serve until Town Meeting of 2009, anticipating the possibility that the town could vote for an elected committee this March.

The motion, however, was greeted with skepticism from several residents in attendance at the meeting, who wondered aloud if the approval of the Advisory Budget Committee by both boards made the budget committee a "done deal." Board of Selectmen Chair Karel Crawford asserted that the board had not yet discussed the matter and that she had no idea what the other selectmen thought of the idea.

"There's a certain segment of the population that feels you're out to get them," said Selectman Ed Charest. "We're not, we're very open. It's time to get away from the 'gotcha' attitude."

Amid fervent questioning from residents in attendance, the board voted to create the committee in order to "set in place the infrastructure" for such a committee. If residents vote in favor of a different board wherein members are elected, the advisory board appointed to work during the next fiscal year would have to run for election in 2009. This action follows the unanimous vote of the School Board last month to establish an Advisory Budget Committee. The hearing last week was attended jointly by the Board of Selectmen and the School Board.

Trying to clarify the history of how the School Board voted on an advisory budget committee, Selectman Betsey Patten gave a brief history of the Budget Study Committee's inception and work in the town. The idea, Patten said, sprang from the meeting of an ad hoc committee, which suggested the advisory committee as a "proactive" way to deal with teaching a new committee the ropes of determining the budget.

"So they said let's do an advisory committee to begin to understand what we do," said Patten. "We'll begin to give people the ability to understand what we do in town. Personally, I think running into it is a huge step. It changes our way of governing ourselves. Let's try this and see if it works well."

Deciding on a five-member board with a representative each from the Selectmen and School Boards, the board voted that the remaining three openings would be determined by the School, Selectmen, and Library Trustee Boards. Resident Jean Beadle had already completed and submitted a resume and letter of interest to the board, hoping to be appointed to the position.

Resident Rick Heath disagreed with this course of action, and told the board that he believed this motion bypassed the election system by setting up a board before the town had decided.

"This is suggestive of an ongoing appointment, bypassing the election system," said Heath. "Go to the voters. The true democratic process is that people vote for people, and the majority wins."

School Board member Bill Blackadar countered this, telling Heath that any resident in town could submit a petitioned warrant article to change the motion, making the board elected, increasing the number of members, or whatever they desired.

"Why do you feel the legislative process has been circumvented by creating this committee?" Blackadar asked. "You can change it. All you need to do is bring in a warrant article. They're just being proactive with the report."

Patten pointed out that if the town waited for the voters to decide on an elected board, the board wouldn't be elected until 2009, and would first begin work on the budget for 2010. She said that the board was attempting to be proactive, to determine how the process of working with a budget committee would run while still allowing people to run for election in 2009 to replace the appointed members.

Heath inquired about a letter written by the School Board in opposition to the formation of a budget committee. Blackadar responded that it was a "life lesson" to try not to oppose a committee's recommendation, indicating the recommendation of the Budget Study Committee. Instead of voting on a budget committee last year, voters amended a petitioned warrant article to ask for a study committee to look into how a budget committee would affect Moultonboro. The Board of Selectmen discussed their feelings on the Advisory Budget Committee, some admitting reservations about it but deciding to stand with their other selectmen. Selectmen Joel Mudgett, James Gray, and Patten spoke in favor of forming the committee as a way to ease the burden of the budget process on selectmen and town officials, a task made tougher this year without a town administrator. Charest voted in favor of the committee but with "reservations."

"If I had my druthers, I would say no," said Crawford. "But if the other members of the board think it's a good thing, then I'll vote with them."

The vote was unanimous.The town will be accepting more applications for appointments to the Advisory Budget Committee, which will begin on April 1.

Lastly is this editorial from July 2008 also in the Meredith News:

The Meredith News   July 3rd, 2008
Anyone who prepares a budget knows that it’s not an easy process, especially as wants have to give way to needs nowadays, and even needs have to be prioritized. Multiply that by a hefty number, and with a far more needs to consider, and you’ve got any town budget. It’s a grueling process for any town, but was especially true for Moultonboro last year. Without a town administrator, the selectmen took on multiple duties and budget sessions in order to see the budget to its presentation this year. It’s why we’re happy to see Moultonboro establishing an advisory budget committee in town. Extra pairs of hands and eyes are always useful when it comes to financial matters, and especially so in a time when hard decisions may have to be made. The more opinions that can be voiced, the more complete picture the selectmen and the school board will have to work with in the next budget season. As to whether this becomes an annual occurrence, we hope everyone looks at the committee with an open mind. Fears have been expressed to us in the past that if Moultonboro gets a budget committee, the budget process will become rancorous and would divide the community. It’s true that money can be a divisive issue – most married couples we know will admit to an argument or two (or three). Come Town Meeting, though, it’s in the hands of Moultonboro residents to make the decision – not just about the budget, but about the committee itself. If residents like the input of the advisory budget committee this year, they may very well make the committee an elected one…or not. Residents might like the advisory committee just the way it is. There is the third possibility that residents just find the whole committee unnecessary, and don’t wish to continue with it at all. With or without such a committee, there will always be a debate over where the funding goes – just look at the debate over the community/senior center earlier this year. We’d like to say that a budget committee, advisory or elected, is a forward-thinking step for the town, and we support its institution.We’d encourage residents to go out and attend these meetings, so that they know where the funding is going, and the reasons that it’s going there.


Joe Cormier/jcormier2@myfairpoint.net said...

Thanks Paul, for the background on the ABC, and your stamina for open governance in MoBo.

Unfortunate, that the original Article 8 didn't prevail at the 2007 meeting :

"To see if the Town shall establish an elected municipal budget committee ..."

Not only an Official Budget Committee ... but one that is elected. The budget committee could have been "appointed" at town meeting by the town moderator, if I remember the statute.

It would appear from the history provided, most, in MoBo, didn't have a clue to a budget process.

I'll probably be shot for saying, it's a good thing a TA showed up!

There's, also, some other history, on the town website (search "budgets") about the iterations of meetings and participants subsequent to the town meeting.

I stress "subsequent" to the town meeting, that's when MoBo comes out to play, in the town sandbox.

Again ... why no monthly budget v. actual reports? Why not make the "great work" legal ... not advisory. If "they" can't "majority agree" ... the town doesn't need it ... and the BoS shouldn't override it ... or should they?

The same people, doing the same work on the ABC, could be on an Official Budget Committee ... more of them ... (and, hopefully, not be on every other committee/board in town)!

The difference would be the elimination of budget arguments that a board/committee "decided" on "these numbers", and the BoS , five members (maybe it should go back to three), decided otherwise. Look at the rancor regarding the CIPC.

There's a group doing a great job ... and have to fight to get their work recognized by the BoS ... my opinion! They should be on an Official Budget Committee!

Where's the committee "dissent" votes, on budgets numbers? Even the US Supreme Court publishes dissent?

My thanks go out to those that volunteer. Doesn't mean it's not time for change.

Just a few tidbits from town website. I believe I read some, that mentioned, our town moderator had chaired some exploratory budget committee meetings.






Keep up the great work, Paul. A lot of us DO APPRECIATE it.

Anonymous said...

To Paul and Joe.

Yes, a lot of us do appreciate the work of both of you. Joe, you have done an excellent job educating and enlightening many of us. Thanks!

Eric Taussig said...

Paul, Thank you for refreshing my recollection with a terrific recap of the process and events leading up to the ABC. As the floor is open to discussion on the ABC and the issue of an Official Budget Committee, I will offer my unsolicited two cents.

I agree with Joe Cormier about having an Official Committee. I also would be advocate for an elected committee and not an appointed one. I would hope that the committee, be it advisory or official, would restrict itself to the budget and not delve into other matters. I agree with the objective that the budget be the output of the committee and not editorial comments on programs. I would like to see a budget committee telling me what the effect of certain expenditures are and the impact not only for the current year but the future fiscal impact over a 2 to 5 year period. At the same time when the Budget Committee reports it should indicate on some larger items what their effect would likely be on the tax rate. That would be much more helpful than some of the editorial comments the Budget Committee now provides.

Finally, periodic reports on a monthly or quarterly basis as to where spending rates are in conjunction with the budget would be very helpful. Those reports should include explanations as to why certain areas are either above or below budgetary projections.