WILMINGTON, MA — Changes may be on the way for Annual Town Meeting, but not anytime in the immediate future.
At Monday’s meeting, Selectman Mike McCoy asked his colleagues to put an article on this year’s Town Meeting warrant asking voters to change the dates of the Annual Town Election and Annual Town Meeting. McCoy noted the recent Bylaw Review Committee, which he served on, was supportive of changing the date of Annual Town Meeting.
Under McCoy’s proposal, the Town Election would fall on the third Saturday of March and the Town Meeting would fall on the fourth Saturday of March. McCoy felt turnout would increase with less conflicts predicted in late March as compared to early May, when First Communions, spring youth sports, and yard work are all in full swing.
While his colleagues didn’t necessarily dismiss the idea, they opted not to support it. Instead, Selectmen unanimously agreed to form a Town Meeting Review Committee on the suggestion of Town Moderator Robert Peterson, Jr.
“I have no opposition to moving Town Meeting… but I ask the board when moving the date, that you consider taking a holistic approach to the issue of Town Meeting,” Peterson told the board. “I do strongly suggest the Town consider doing some sort of Town Meeting Review Committee…. There are things we can look at to speed the process along, whether it be consent agendas or electronic voting…”
“I think Mr. Peterson’s idea is a great idea,” responded Selectman Jonathan Eaton. “I’d rather a solution come from the community than this board. I don’t want to make a change now and then have to change it again next year. My preference is to start a committee as soon as possible and solicit feedback. There’s a lot of good in the survey we’ve conducted, but we have a lot of questions that we need to do some more digging on.”
“I agree. Let’s have a review committee. But let’s add a caveat that they need to have something decided in time so we can put something on warrant for next year’s meeting. Let’s get it going now so it’s ready for next year’s warrant,” agreed Selectman Ed Loud.
“I’d be inclined to develop a subcommittee and for them to come back and give us a report on which way to go,” concurred Selectman Kevin Caira.
The makeup of the Committee is yet to be fleshed out, but it sounded like each Selectman will appoint three members to a 15-member committee.
All Selectman also seemed unanimous in their desire to keep the Town Meeting on Saturday, as opposed to moving it to a weeknight or multiple weeknights.
“I’m concerned about seniors, some of which are less likely to drive at night,” pointed out Selectman Greg Bendel, who was also cool to the idea of a March Town Meeting. “I worry about a March Meeting. We had 5-6 snow days at school last March. We’d still be running into winter weather. What would happen if Town Meeting were to get snowed out, which unfortunately is a possibility in New England in March.”
“This is an impossible problem to try to solve. 23,000 people live in Wilmington,” added Selectman Eaton. “There’s always going to be a conflict… A lot of the themes I saw [in the town meeting survey] was that weeknights weren’t good for seniors, but weekends were tough for parents.”
Town Manager Jeff Hull cautioned that moving the Town Meeting too early in the year would create issues for the town’s budget process.
“The Governor doesn’t present his budget [which includes state aid, the town’s second largest revenue source] until the end of January. If we have a Town Meeting at the end of March, I have to present the budget to the Board of Selectmen at the end of December, well before the Governor’s,” explained Hull. “It just creates a greater level of uncertainty when putting the budget together.”
“Clearly we had some past Town Meetings – like the new high school vote – where a significant amount of people showed up. To some measure, [attendance] is a function of what the topics are at the Town Meeting,” Hull later added. “When people really want to turn out – hockey rink, new High School, new Middle School — people turn out when there are issues that they want to be heard on. I’m not sure that any particular date is going to solicit a groundswell of interest.”
Any date change would need Town Meeting approval and then require an act of the State Legislature.
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