The Town of New Milford Charter, which guides all of the process and procedures we follow, had not been updated since 2006. Many may not be aware that our Town must form a Charter Revision Commission at least once every five years. Knowing that two previous administrations let this fundamental task slide, I properly placed this among New Milford’s highest priorities.
I formed a Charter Revision Committee which dedicated their time and talent to a complete rewrite of the Charter! This was approved at referendum by the Town of New Milford electors in 2018.
The Commission reflected diverse perspectives and experiences, which helped ensure a smooth, thorough process. All members love New Milford and the town meeting form of government, where the big decisions are made by you. Realizing our structure works well, we sought ways to make it the best it could be.
After being formed, the Commission conducted research. This started with several items referred by the Town Council. Second, data was gathered, compared and analyzed from a variety of resources. Third, and most important, the Commission collected input from 1) current boards, commissions, and departments and 2) citizens. In addition to two public hearings, the Commission held public comment at all meetings and obtained feedback in writing.
The Commission had three guiding principles:
- Is there compelling reason to change?
- Will change benefit New Milford?
- What are the potential long-term consequences?
The recommended changes were unanimously approved by the Commission and subsequently by a bipartisan Town Council.
The proposed revisions make New Milford’s Charter clearer and less subject to interpretation. The proposed changes put more checks and balances in place to preserve our current structure, but improve that structure with boldly defined responsibilities. Finally, the changes enhance the authority of New Milford citizens, vital to helping our town succeed.
Major improvements to the Charter include:
- If either part of a budget passes at referendum (town or school), it will be adopted and not subject to further revision or referendum.
- Added language to the budget referendum to better understand the voter's wishes. The budget will now ask if the amount for each side, town and school, is "too High", "Too Low" or "Adequate." This will give clear guidance if a budget is defeated.
- Mayor will not be able to appoint members to Boards and Commissions at the end of their term. This will prevent any future Mayor, including myself, from appointing dozens and dozens of board and committee members at the last minute if a Mayor is defeated in the election. It will allow the incoming Mayor to appoint them instead.
- Increase's taxpayer control of money appropriated outside of the budget by requiring that any supplemental appropriation exceeding one-eight of one mill or any supplemental appropriation cumulative for the year exceeds one-half of one mill to require Town Meeting approval. This gives the electors a greater say in how your money is spent!
- Increased checks and balances if a budget is defeated by allowing the Board of Finance to be allowed in the revisions to the budget along with the Town Council. Historically, only the Town Council had control of budget revisions.
- Added checks and balances to the Director of Finance with respect to investment of Town funds exceeding one-eighth of one mill. A former Director of Finance previously invested Town monies in an inappropriate manner causing us to lose money. With this Revision, the Board of Finance will now have the authority to prevent this from occurring.
- Allows all Boards/Commissions to have the ability to seek legal opinions from the Town Attorney. Previously, a former Mayor had disallowed a Board from getting their own legal opinion. Under the new Charter, the Boards will have the ability to be protected and have legal counsel as needed.
- Increased Board of Finance from 6 to 7 members to reduce the potential for tie votes. Previously, tie votes would have been broke by the Mayor which would have circumvented the Board of Finance's authority.
- Clarified the filling of vacancies of Town elected offices. You may recall there was a divisive issue a few years ago when there was a disagreement as to whether or not a Town Councilman who had been appointed to fill a vacated seat could serve until December 1st or until the election. The Charter Revision has eliminated this potential divisiveness from ever occurring again!
- Made various improvements to the Charter to be consistent with State Statutes.
- Requires Code of Ethics to be considered for revision every 5 years.
Special thanks to Joe DeGregorio, Lisa Agee, Michelle Gentile, Pete Helmus, Lori Campbell, Gerard Bianchi, Diane Klaif, Tom Mulvihill, Ken Taylor, Liba Fuhrman, Cecilia Buck-Taylor and Paul Szymanski who served on the Commission!
You can download a copy of the new Charter by clicking here!