2018-2019 Town of Seekonk Budget/Charter Review
Dear Seekonk Residents:
May 14, 2018 is the Annual Town Meeting at the Seekonk High School at 7:00pm. The residents in attendance who are registered voters are expected to vote on a fifty five million dollar budget as part of a 29 item Warrant.
The Seekonk Home Rule Charter, adopted in 1995 and amended in 2010 was established to “improve the operations of town government and its ability to respond to contemporary problems. The Charter (is supposed to) “allow for flexibility while providing adequate checks and balances in the administration of the town’s government.”
It is important to know that a few sections of this Charter which may apply to you and me apparently does not apply to town officials as they have been stepped on repeatedly. What if ignoring our Charter IS a contemporary problem?
Page 15 clearly outlines the process, the participants as well as a defined timeline for the presentation and approval of our annual budget. The expectation is the Town Administrator will set the calendar of events, according to the Charter, and work to accomplish a successful and complete presentation for the Board of Selectmen at town meeting.
All this works if all parties, as defined by Charter, are included and actively working to the same end. Unfortunately for Seekonk Residents, the Charter is being utilized as only a guideline and not a rule. Unless of course it applies to Seekonk Residents.
“The Board of Selectmen and the School Committee are to meet prior to and during the budget process to assess the financial condition of the town’s revenue and expenditure forecast.” The Finance Committee and the Capital Improvements Committee are included in that process as adviser’s but they are both just as important as the everyone else. The Town Administrator and the School Superintendent should meet to develop guidelines consistent with policies set by the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee.
None of the above section seems to have been in place. If they were, updates should have been expected and received through the Town Administrators Report section of the Selectmen’s agenda. Further every meeting from the start of the budget process should be updated on a regular basis and it has not been.
Page 16 Section 6 of the Charter defines “Action on the Proposed Budget”. This section tells us about the public hearings to be held by the Board of Selectmen and the School Committee. Each group held their meetings on 3/12 (school), 4/4 & 4/14 (selectmen).
The problem is according to Section 6 “the Finance Committee shall issue in print its recommendations on the aggregate budget proposals.” To date, as of this writing, they have not.
Please keep this in mind as well. The Charter defines the role of the Board of Selectmen at town meeting. They are responsible for presenting the proposed budget at town meeting for appropriate action. A year ago, they side stepped this by voting to allow the Town Administrator to present the budget. This action was a clear attempt to side step the Charter once again.
Clearly our Charter set rules, however, the Residents have limited recourse if we feel it has been violated, mutilated or otherwise ignored. Thus the Committee to update the Charter will clearly require resident input and support.
It has been reported that the Warrant for May 14th has 29 items on it (give or take). Apparently to circumvent the Charter again, items have been placed in a holding pattern for the Selectmen to consider including or eliminating.
There is a Public Hearing that was prescheduled for May 8th to readdress the property at 800 Fall River Avenue which will once again speak to rezoning the property for sale. Maybe the town should obtain a real estate license and continue to sell properties and earn a commission?
The fall town meeting said no and yet the Chairman of the Board is determined to assist National Amusements sell their property instead of following an established process.
We have our own capital items to worry about. To date the following has been discussed yet plans to “move forward” (a favorite saying) have not been put into place.
1.Senior Center-to be completed
2.South End Fire Station-Public Safety
3.Elementary School Spacing Needs
4.DPW Building-Public Safety
5.Animal Control-Public Safety
The Capital Improvement Committee has been the only Committee doing their due diligence. They presented to the Selectmen 15 items totaling 891,000 at their public hearing on 4/14. The Town Administrator has recommended 12 of those items but the adjusted amount is unknown and the items removed are unknown.
A final observation, the Board of Selectmen approved the budget with only 3 members present. We have been “assured” by one of those members that she has reviewed every line of the budget and asked the Town Administrator questions accordingly. Therefore, she is completely satisfied with the presentation. Wow, this sounded more like a campaign speech than a sincere and objective budget review.
The rest of us have no idea what her questions were because they were not made public. The supporting documentation for the budget requests were not given to the Board for a complete review. They saw what we saw. That’s it.
Here’s an idea. Hold people accountable to do their jobs as defined. Stop passing the buck because it makes life “easy” for you. Follow Charter and General By Laws as you want all of us to. If this requires more meeting’s as it is your responsibility as elected and appointed town official’s then do it.
This has not been a pleasant budget season. We will be lucky if Town Meeting is held to a one night “show”.