WATERVILLE — Members of the Waterville Charter Commission will soon begin talking to municipal officials, former commission members and officials in other communities as the city considers changes to its charter.

The commission voted 9-0 on Tuesday to form three subcommittees: The first, Waterville and Elected Officials Solicitation Subcommittee, will communicate with the mayor, city manager and council; the second, Former Charter Members Solicitation Committee, will speak to former charter commission members; and the third, Other Towns Subcommittee, will speak with officials of other communities and review their charters.

Commission members Tuesday were also appointed to those subcommittees.

James Laliberty, co-chairman of the commission, appointed members Rien Finch, Lutie Brown and Tom Nale Jr., also a commission co-chairman, to the first subcommittee, with Brown to serve as chairperson; Julian Payne, Ronald Merrill and Phil Bofia to the second, with Bofia as chairperson; and Samantha Burdick, Cathy Weeks, himself and Hilary Koch to the third, with Koch as chairperson.

Bofia was absent from Tuesday’s meeting.

The commission identified several topics the subcommittees will discuss, including some raised by residents last week during a public hearing. The group will consider whether to maintain the current city ward system where seven city councilors and members of the Waterville Board of Education, for instance, represent constituents in their respective wards, rather than have all at-large positions.

Members will also look at whether the mayor position should be eliminated or revisions should be made to the position; whether elections should continue to be partisan; and whether residents should vote on city budgets that now are decided by councilors.

Commissioners decided Tuesday all three subcommittees should discuss certain issues, including that of the mayor’s position and whether residents should decide budgets. The commission also will discuss a list of items City Clerk Patti Dubois submitted last week to clarify charter language.

Some members said Tuesday they had not heard any support for changing the ward system and no one at last week’s public hearing asked for that, so the commission should not spend time discussing it.

But Laliberty said while he did not think changes would likely be made to the ward system, it behooved the commission to at least go through the motions of discussing it and obtaining public input to make sure nothing is being missed. Koch agreed.

“It’s premature to talk about what we want to do before we do our due diligence,” Koch said.

Dubois said she does not have a stake in commission decisions and she is there to help facilitate and offer suggestions, but she wanted to “throw something out there.” She noted that at election time, she sees a lot of people who have no idea what ward they live in and some do not care. Having worked several years in Bangor, which has at-large councilors, Dubois said the system there works well.

“It can work and I think there’s representation of everyone in Bangor,” she said.

Member Samantha Burdick said some area communities are significantly smaller than Waterville and she wondered aloud how much it would cost the city to have voters decide budgets.

“I’m just thinking the astronomical cost of that election would be insane,” she said.

Dubois said 200 of 13,000 registered voters can turn out at the polls to decide a school budget, for instance, and some 75% of those 200 voters are school teachers. But Weeks, who supports having residents vote on budgets, said residents “have had it” with increasing taxes and would pay for such an election.

“Even people that make a very, very healthy income have told me, ‘We have had it with this,'” she said.

The city charter is like a local constitution that governs how the city operates. It requires that voters every seven years be asked whether a charter commission should be established to revise the charter or establish a new one. Voters in November decided to establish the commission and elected charter commission members from each city ward. The city council also appointed three members.

The commission reviews the charter and makes recommendations as to what changes, if any, should be made. There is no legal requirement that changes be made. The commission also receives public input, as it did at last week’s public hearing.

The schedule for commission meetings, which are open to the public, is listed on the city’s website — www.waterville-me.gov.

The next commission meeting will be at 7 p.m. Jan. 28, also in the IT training room on the first floor of City Hall.

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