The budget committee was created at Town Meeting in 1926 to review all articles authorizing the expenditure of town money, and make recommendations in the annual town report. State statutes do not list budget committees as an elected position, and to come into compliance, the town has decided to dissolve the position.
While the position was dissolved, the five members of the selectboard all agree that the budget committee has provided a great service to the town and would like to see it continue in some form. At Wednesday’s meeting, the question became does the selectboard create the position, or should it be up to the residents?
Selectboard member Susie Haughwout was staunchly opposed to the selectboard appointing a committee, citing the independent status of the budget committee in the past. “They are already an independent committee, elected by the voters,” said Haughwout. “We have no control over them now, and we shouldn’t have any in the future.”
Selectboard member and 25-year budget committee member Jacob White agreed with Haughwout, pointing out that for the selectboard to appoint its own watchdogs would look like favoritism. “Even if we appoint them and do everything 100% proper, people will not look at it that way. It’s like putting the fox in the chicken coop.”
But both sides of the coin were discussed as co-chair Jim Burke pointed out that the selectboard is not inclined to favoritism, appointing members to the town’s various committees after an interview process. “I wouldn’t have a problem if we appointed the committee,” said Burke. “We would appoint those already elected. When somebody steps down, we make it known there’s a need for somebody on the review board and then they can come before us.”
Current member of the budget committee Tom Consolino asked the selectboard if perhaps they were moving too quickly on the matter and should consider allowing the current board to continue in its capacity for three years, while attempting to raise more community awareness and involvement.
“When I was researching the 1% option tax process in other towns, there were a number of towns that got 50 to 60 people to show up for their budget meetings,” said Consolino. “Maybe we just haven’t tried to involve the public. Maybe we should try to do that before making a final decision.”
As the meeting progressed, the selectboard came to an agreement that the selectboard would not create a committee with a charge. While they support its creation, the selectboard will also have nothing to do with the construction of an advisory committee, or its guidelines.
Board member Diane Chapman said that while a group may form to replace the budget committee the duplication of efforts by the selectboard and the committee should be addressed. “I was on the budget committee last winter, and I feel we shouldn’t make the department heads go through interviews with both, because things get lost in the translation.”
Selectboard chair Meg Streeter summed up the board’s decision. “Let them have at it. Let them form what they want to form, and it will not be up to us to create a model.”
If and when an advisory committee is created, the selectboard said it would invite its members to budget meetings, and publish their recommendations in the town report.