Over the past several weeks the Cape Elizabeth Town Council has been considering having a referendum for citizens to vote on approval of a new $9 million library. Unfortunately, if a referendum is held the Town Council is not bound by the outcome of any vote.
The Town Charter for Cape Elizabeth is unique in Maine in that it does not require the council to abide by referendums that originate in the council. The council is bound only by referendum votes which originate from citizens’ petitions.
If Cape voters want a bigger voice in the town’s fiscal choices and decisions the charter needs to be amended. The charter currently states that voters cannot overturn any capital expenditure decision by the council unless it exceeds 0.05 percent of the town’s state property valuation, or approximately $890,000, which is far too high, given that neighboring towns such as Scarborough, Falmouth, Cumberland and Yarmouth all have referendum thresholds in the $100,000-$200,000 range. Plus, their respective charters include various provisions to prohibit sleight-of-hand fiscal maneuvers, a requirement for inclusion of five-year capital expenditure plans in each annual budget, and mandatory referendums for capital expenditures that exceed minimum levels.
If Cape citizens want to be heard they must update the town’s current archaic charter in line with what our neighboring towns have done.