The Board of Finance (BOF) and Board of Selectmen (BOS) held a joint meeting on Friday, April 23. The BOF made an adjustment to the official numbers in the 2010-2011 budget that did not effect the ultimate change in the mill rate and the BOS voted to send a single budget to the Town Meeting, without advisory questions.
While researching the procedures for the Town Meeting, , at 7:30 p.m. at Brookfield High School, town attorney David Grogins concluded that the advisory questions are not actually legal under the town charter. "There is no charter provision for advisory questions," Grogins explained during an interview on Monday, adding that, "towns don't have implied powers," they only have the powers granted specifically to them under the charter.
"Unless a particular action is specifically authorized it may not be legally done," Grogins wrote in his opinion to the boards, "This proposition is further supported by an informal verbal opinion which I obtained from Attorney [Theodore] Bromley of the Elections Division of the Secretary of State's Office, which essentially states that 'advisory questions' are prohibited without a specific statute authorizing them." In order to include advisory questions in the future, the town would have to include appropriate language in the next charter revision.
The BOS also voted to offer the budget in a single vote, rather than offering the municipal and education budgets separately. This was the third year that the town has had the option for a single or separate vote and the third consecutive year that the BOS has sent a combined vote to the Town Meeting. As with years past, the BOS had a split decision, voting 2-1, with Selectman Steve O'Reilly dissenting.
"It's unfortunate," O'Reilly said of the decision, "I think the taxpayers should have a choice. Yes, it's one budget, but it's two portions." Comparing the vote to the failed parks referendum, where three projects were lumped into a single vote, "one or two of those would have passed, in my opinion," he argued.
Selectman Howard Lasser, who originally proposed reinstituting the split-budget option on the last charter revision commission, voted against the option along with First Selectman Bill Davidson. While pointing out that the mill rate cannot be set until the full budget is approved, Lasser was not of the opinion that having two votes would provide the boards with useful information. "I think the best time to give guidance to the Board of Finance is during the public hearings and the Town Meeting," Lasser explained in an email on Monday, "The issues involved in the budget are complex and in some ways interrelated; the result of a yes/no vote hardly provides any response to those complexities."
Brookfield residents will have the ability to approve or reverse this decision at the Town Meeting.
The BOF reshuffled some numbers in the budget at Friday's meeting in response to another legal issue that arose. The board used $400,000 of the $900,000 left over from when the town was self-insured to help mitigate the tax increase for the next fiscal year, hoping that an upswing in the economy will fill the coffers in later years. The BOF originally included this amount in the total figures, however by statute the residents must vote on the gross spending for the year ($53.7 million, rather than $53.3 million). The adjustment in the numbers brings the total spending increase to 4.1 percent (previously pegged at 3.33 percent), however the increase to the mill rate, 3.23 percent, remains unchanged.