FAIRFIELD — For the first time in decades, residents will be asked whether to take a new look at the way their town government is structured and how it operates.

At the November town election, voters will decide whether to form a charter commission to study town government. Fairfield’s municipal government includes a town meeting, town council and town manager.

Nomination papers for the election became available Tuesday, and in addition to filling town offices, the question of establishing a charter commission will appear on the ballot along with candidates for election to the commission, who would take office if the commission is approved.

Papers for the charter commission and for two seats on the Fairfield Town Council and three seats on the local school board are now available. Nomination papers for all open seats in the November elections must be filed with the town clerk by 4:30 p.m., Friday, Sept. 19.

With the exception of a few minor amendments, the Fairfield town charter has not been changed in 30 years, Town Manager Josh Reny said Tuesday.

The question before voters Nov. 4 will be whether to establish a commission for the purpose of revising the municipal charter or adopting a new one. The voters will also elect members of the commission who would take office if the referendum on creating the commission is approved.

Six commission members would be elected and three more would be appointed for a total of nine.

“The charter commission is not something we do every year — it’s a new thing and it’s six seats — it’s not one or two,” Reny said.”

“The town has changed a lot in the past 30 years and I think it’s something that’s healthy to do every now and then — to take a look at how we do business and if this is the way the people want the government to operate or if they want to see some changes,” he said.

A copy of the charter is available on the town of Fairfield website. Reny said that if voters approve creating a charter commission, the panel would meet over the following 12 months and will hold public hearings on its recommendations. Any proposed changes would ultimately go to a referendum vote in November 2015.

Reny said attendance at the annual Town Meeting held in May is less than one percent of registered voters in a town with a population of 6,735, a point the charter commission would be expected to examine.

“During the past couple years, honestly, there have been many people in town that have expressed some concerns about the very low turnout at town meeting,” he said. “They’re concerned whether that’s the most democratic process. That is something the charter commission is going to be tasked with.”

The tax rate in Fairfield is $20.25 for every $1,000 in property valuation. If only a small percentage of people show up at Town Meeting, then it is those few who dictate spending for the coming year.

Reny said the commission would be expected to ask tough questions, including whether Fairfield has reached a point in its population growth that the town should move to a strictly Town Council form of government, such as the one Winslow adopted 20 years ago, or whether voters want to preserve the Town Meeting.

Other considerations for the charter commission will include the possibility of changing the size of the Town Council, which currently has five members. All council members in Fairfield currently are elected “at large,” as they are in Skowhegan, and are not elected to represent districts or wards, as is the case with the ward councilors elected under the city charter in Waterville.

The commission could also look at the current pay for town councilors — $15 per meeting to a maximum of $180 a year — which was fine in the early 1980s, but may not be appropriate in 2014.

As for keeping a town manager in Fairfield, Reny said most towns of the same size have a town manager.

Other elections slated for Nov. 4 will be for one open seat for a three-year term on the town council and one seat for an unexpired two-year term on the council. The unexpired term came as a result of the resignation of Richard Letourneau who moved from town. Harold “Jim” Murray took over the post.

Incumbents Robert Sezak and Murray already have taken out papers for reelection.

In elections for the School Administrative District 49 board, there are two seats open for a three-year term and one seat for an unexpired one-year term. Directors Shelley Rudnicki, Sherry Tompkins and Andrew Carlton are the incumbents.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

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