FAIRFIELD — Voters in Fairfield will be asked if they want to form a charter commission and begin a study of town government that could ultimately yield proposals to change how their town government is structured and how it operates.

With the exception of a few minor amendments over the years, the Fairfield town charter has not been changed in some three decades. Fairfield’s municipal government includes a town meeting, town council and town manager.

The question before voters Nov. 4 will be whether to establish a commission that would be charged with studying town government operations and making recommendations for any changes it considers necessary. The changes could be adopted through amendments to the existing charter or adoption of an entirely new document.

There are six candidates for election to the commission. The candidates, all current or former local or county officials, would take office if the commission is approved. Six commission members would be elected and three more would be appointed for a total of nine.

Voters do not have to vote in favor of creating the charter commission to cast votes for members. If the charter question is defeated, the commission will not take office.

“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,” Town Manager Josh Reny said.

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 look at.

The tax rate in Fairfield is $20.25 for every $1,000 of 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. He said residents have expressed concern that the low turnout may not be the most democratic process, and that will be one of the issues the charter commission would tackle if voters approve forming the panel.

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, similar to the charter adopted in Winslow about 20 years ago, or whether voters want to preserve the Town Meeting, in which every registered voter has the right to vote on budgets, ordinances and other business.

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. The charter sets council pay at $15 per meeting up to a maximum of $180 a year, a figure that 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 a similar size have a town manager.

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

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter: @Doug_Harlow

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