FAIRFIELD — Voters in Fairfield will be asked to approve revisions to the town charter at the Nov. 8 election, changes that town officials say focus on new ways of performing town government for a smoother operation.

With the exception of a few minor amendments over the years, the town charter has not been changed in about three decades.

A town charter is like a local constitution that governs municipal business and addresses what can be done and by whom within the local government.

Proposed changes to parts of the original charter, created in 1987, raised public concern during hearings over the past year. A move to change the annual Town Meeting and public show-of-hands vote held in May to public hearings and a referendum in June, when the school district votes on the school budget, did not sit well with voters.

The current open Town Meeting form of government was upheld by the Charter Commission after much discussion and public debate, according to a charter summary provided by attorney Dawn DiBlasi, the commission chairwoman and Somerset County administrator.

A vote was taken by the commission in June to keep the current form of town government, with the added safeguards of a flier containing the proposed budget lines being mailed to all residents at least 10 days before a public hearing and before the budget document is set for Town Meeting.

With voter approval, the annual meeting in Fairfield will be known as the “annual town budget meeting,” at which annual municipal budget appropriations are the only matters covered. Another proposed change would reduce the number of Budget Committee members from the current 12 to nine.

The Charter Commission began reviewing the charter by section in January to see which sections could be left the same and which could be eliminated if they no longer applied. The nine-member commission also began reviewing town and city charters from all over the state.

Other proposed changes include a plan to review the charter every five years, beginning in 2021, and language on what constitutes a vacancy on any town boards or committees. An increase in compensation for town councilors also is proposed in the new charter, from $15 per meeting attended, with an annual cap of $180, to $41.66 per meeting, with a $1,000 cap. The council chairman, under the new proposals, would receive $50 per meeting, with a cap of $1,200 annually.

Other proposed changes include altering the terms of School Administrative District 49 school board members, changing from three-year terms being elected in November and taking office Jan. 1, to three-year terms elected in June and taking office July 1.

The original charter also vested all unassigned powers with the Town Meeting; the new charter vests all powers, except adoption of the annual budget, with the Town Council.

An old provision allowing the town manager to spend up to $300 for emergency situations is proposed to change, requiring funding to be drawn from a contingency account and spent only with the approval of the Town Council.

Only minor changes were made to the Fairfield charter in 1993, 2000, 2006 and 2008.

Fairfield residents in November 2014 voted 1,080-948 against a town Charter Commission to study town government and possibly change the way it operates. Voters reconsidered their decision after the Town Council put the question on the ballot again last year.

The vote was 357-324 to create the nine-member panel. The commission’s first meeting was held in January.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow


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