WATERVILLE — The city should maintain the ward system, allow voters — not city councilors — to decide municipal budgets and prohibit councilors who are school employees from voting on school budgets.

Paul Lussier speaks Wednesday night during a Waterville charter commission meeting at the Chace Community Forum at the Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons.

Those were some of the requests residents made Wednesday night at a public hearing hosted by the charter commission.

The panel held the meeting to get input from residents about what they like about the charter and what they would like changed in the document, which is like a local constitution that governs how the city operates.

About 50 people, including commission members, turned out for the meeting held in the Chace Community Forum at the Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons.

Paul Lussier, a developer, planning board chairman and former code enforcement officer for the city, said he talks to many people and their main concern is taxes. He said a lot of them feel a sense of helplessness sometimes and allowing them to vote on the budget would change that.

“I know it’s a radical change,” Lussier said.

Richard Foss, a new councilor who represents Ward 5, agreed with Lussier that residents should decide budget outcomes, not just seven people on the City Council.

“Bring it to the people that pay the bills, literally,” Foss said.

Foss also advocated for maintaining the ward system, which he said enables a resident who has a problem in that ward to take it to one person.

Tom DePre, Sharon Labbe, Dan Libby, Maryanne Bernier, Pam Merrill and Jon Weeks followed suit, saying they support keeping the ward system in place.

Labbe, a 37-year resident, said she has had experience with the Ward 1 councilor who has always helped her out.

“I want to maintain that,” she said.

If the city instituted at-large councilors, they would have to campaign in the entire city, Labbe said. She said a ward councilor understands issues in his or her ward and sympathizes with constituents.

Merrill noted the charter stipulates a person running for mayor must have lived in the city for three months.

“I think that’s much too short,” she said. “I think the mayor should live in the city at least a year.”

Weeks, husband to commission co-secretary Cathy Weeks, agreed with those who support having residents vote on the budget, saying he has been paying taxes for more than 30 years and it is “extremely difficult to convey the message that we’re not happy with taxes going up every year.”

“We’re leading the state and that’s not something that we should be wanting,” he said, referring to the city’s tax rate. “Give us a chance to vote on what we’re paying for.”

Marilyn Harmon, a 55-year resident, said those in her neighborhood, Ward 5, would be upset if wards were to be disbanded.

“It has worked for all these years,” she said. “If it is not broken, don’t fix it.”

She said people struggle to pay taxes and the city must cut spending and reduce taxes.

“I’m not an expert on government finances,” Harmon said, “but it seems to me it would be wise to be careful where we’re spending money.”

Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro speaks Wednesday during a Waterville charter commission meeting at the Chace Community Forum at the Bill & Joan Alfond Main Street Commons.

Mayor Nick Isgro recommended the position of mayor be maintained. Mayors attend a lot of meetings and negotiate with partners, developers and others, he said.

“I just think it’s an important role to keep,” Isgro said, “and I don’t think it needs to be partisan.”

Isgro also recommended the city eliminate partisan elections and prohibit school employees serving on the council to vote on school budgets. City employees do not vote on city budgets, he said.

Lily Wilson, a Colby student, said she was speaking on behalf of her peers who had a difficult time voting in the city. She said she thinks there can be greater detail and specificity in the charter about elections, which would help provide clarity and respect for student voters.

City Clerk Patti Dubois requested the commission consider about a dozen recommendations she outlined as charter changes. They include:

  • Making the criteria for creating a vacancy among the seats of mayor, City Council and School Board consistent.
  • Removing the requirements for publication in a newspaper of general circulation certain announcements, as it is costly and does not have the reach it once had.
  • Clarifying that the subject of a recall election be removed from office immediately after the council verifies the result of any vote is in favor of removal.

Voters are asked every seven years, as required by the charter, whether a charter commission should be established to revise the city charter or establish a new one. Voters in November decided 1,150 to 623 to establish the commission. They also elected charter commission members from each city ward. The council is authorized to appoint three members.

The charter commission’s job is to review the charter and make recommendations as to what changes, if any, should be made. There is no legal requirement that changes be made, or that any substantive changes be made. The commission receives input from the public as well.

Commission members elected in November are Cathy Weeks, Ward 1; Phil Bofia, Ward 2; Lutie Brown, Ward 3; Hilary Koch, Ward 4; Julian Payne, Ward 5; Rien Finch, Ward 6; and Ronald Merrill, Ward 7. James Laliberty, Tom Nale Jr. and Samantha Burdick were appointed by the council.

Last month, the commission held its first meeting, and Nale and Laliberty were named co-chairmen and Weeks and Finch were named co-secretaries.

Nale noted the schedule for commission meetings, which are open to the public, is listed on the city’s website — www.waterville-me.gov. The next two meetings are set to begin at 7 p.m. on Jan. 14 and 28, in the IT Training Room in City Hall.

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