At this morning’s library open house, I proposed a compromise on the library. I hope that the library crowd will see the merits of compromise.
The Selectmen have bungled the library-addition warrant article. They were supposed to hold a public hearing at least 15 days before Town Meeting. They didn’t, and it’s too late to do anything about it now.
The Selectmen are proposing to vote on the library addition at Town Meeting on Wednesday, March 14, and, if it gets a 2/3 majority, to then have a public hearing after Town Meeting. They would then call a special Town Meeting in April to vote over again.
The law states clearly that no appropriations may be made at a special Town Meeting unless the total number of ballots cast are at least equal to 1/2 the number of registered voters in town.
The practical effects of this is that there would need to be close to 1,000 yes votes, because anyone opposed to the library addition could simply withhold their ballot.
The Selectmen and the Town Moderator believe, and I believe they are wrong, that they can circumvent the law by voting at the special Town Meeting to “ratify” the vote held at the regular Town Meeting. They argue that the vote at the special Town Meeting would therefore not be an appropriations vote and would therefore not require the nearly 1,000 ballots cast.
This is nonsensical and not logical. If the special Town Meeting vote is not an appropriations vote, then why do they need to have the public hearing at all? The public hearing must occur at least 15 days before the meeting at which the appropriations vote takes place. If the vote at the special Town Meeting is not an appropriations vote, then no hearing is required.
If a special Town Meeting could vote to “ratify” (or to not ratify) a vote at the regular Town Meeting, then a small group of partisans (of any side on any issue), could overturn the will of the regular Town Meeting. That is why, for a special Town Meeting about a money issue, the total number of ballots cast must be at least equal to 1/2 the number of registered voters.
If the selectmen pursue this dubious course, and if a special Town Meeting were to vote to “ratify” the vote at Town Meeting, then I will file a lawsuit against the town seeking an injunction against the Selectmen to prevent them from taking out a loan.
However, there is another way.
At Town Meeting on Wednesday, March 14, let’s amend the current library-addition warrant article to get a scaled-back library addition done this year for around $1 million.
We have roughly $400,000 in the library capital reserve fund, another roughly $350,000 in the library capital donations fund, plus somewhere around $200,000, I believe, in pledges. The exact numbers can be filled in at Town Meeting.
We could also authorize a loan of up to $99,999.99 with a simple majority vote ($100,000 or more requires a 2/3 majority as well as the public hearing that the selectmen forgot to do).
We’d have to make the article contingent on the pledges coming in. I’m sure that everyone who made a pledge will come through. But we wouldn’t be able to start spending money until they did.
The amended article could pass with a simple majority vote. I would vote for it.
This would finally put this issue to rest. It has divided the town for more than a decade, for more years than I have lived here.
It would be a compromise. The library crowd (which seems to be about 325 people in this town of about 2,500) would not get the large building they have dreamed about for 12 years. And I would not get what I want, either — I don’t think we need to spend $1 million on a library addition or major renovation. Sure, we need to fix the septic system. And let’s put in new carpets and new windows.