Falmouth voters to consider proposed charter changes

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FALMOUTH — The municipal ballot on Nov. 6 will include two questions that ask residents if they wish to enact a variety of amendments to the Town Charter.

The biggest changes to the foundational document relate to financial transactions, with one question focused on whether to increase the threshold for capital expenditures requiring a referendum vote from $1 million to $2 million.

The other amendment related to finances would exclude wastewater improvements and the expenditure of funds to cover a declared public emergency from the public vote requirement.

No one spoke on the proposed changes during a public hearing Oct. 10, or at the Sept. 24 Town Council meeting where the amendments were introduced.

This week Karen Farber, chairwoman of the Charter Review Commission, said the goal is to “be more consistent … provide (better) clarity … and (to) bring (the charter) into alignment with current and best practice.”

Under state law, municipalities are required to review their charter every 10 years. This gives communities a chance to “make adjustments (and) fine-tune the charter,” Farber said. “What is (being) proposed are improvements (and) clarifications. This is not a wholesale rewrite.”

She said exempting wastewater capital improvements from the public vote requirement makes sense because such expenditures are not reliant on taxpayer dollars.

“Wastewater is operated as an enterprise fund and is funded entirely by user fees” from residents in both Falmouth and Cumberland, Farber said.

And, “given the high cost of wastewater infrastructure improvements, it is important that Falmouth be able to borrow (or) expend funds from the enterprise account (as) necessary” without adding the extra step of requiring a town-wide vote.

Another key modification to the charter includes the ability to remove a councilor or School Board member from office.

Instead of the justification relying on the ambiguous term of moral turpitude, the charter would be amended to say elected officials could be removed only for conviction of a “serious crime,” which is defined as, but not limited to, fraud, dishonesty or causing serious injury or death.

Another recommended change would make it absolutely clear that no town, School Department or library employee could run for either the Town Council or the School Board.

This became an issue during the June municipal election, when John Lane, a science teacher at Falmouth High School, sought a seat on the council. He was defeated by Councilor Ted Asherman.

Other major changes to the charter would provide “clearer articulation of when elected terms begin and conclude; consistency between council and school board … vacancies for each body; updates to time frames related to budget submittal; (and) increases to the number of petition signatures required to recall an elected official to 20 percent,” according to the Charter Commission’s final report.

If approved by voters, the charter amendments would take effect July 1, 2019.

In addition to Farber, the commission consisted of Bill Lunt, David Goldberg, David McConnell, Richard Olsen, Rachel Reed, former Councilor Ned Kitchel, Sean Mahoney and Mary Nelson. Six of the members were elected and the other three were appointed by the Town Council.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

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