Do we really need the Financial Town Meeting?
There is much debate about the effectiveness of our annual Financial Town Meeting. The Town Council has asked the Charter Review Committee to make recommendations on FTM voting procedures.
One faction wants all votes at the FTM to be conducted by secret ballot. Others have discussed making the FTM an all-day referendum.
Without doubt, the Financial Town Meeting is a cherished but quaint New England tradition. Early colonists decided community issues through such gatherings. Small communities continued to use town meetings to operate their local governments throughout the years.
One must question whether the Jamestown FTM has become an anachronism that has outlasted its usefulness. Once a year voters are asked to meet and approve the Town Council recommended town budget. Residents get to debate the budget issues (among other issues) at the FTM. More often than not the budget is approved as proposed by the Town Council. Sometimes the FTMs are poorly attended. Other years, depending on the budget issues, the FTM may have a packed house.
These days our budget focus in Jamestown seems to be on the FTM. Little attention is paid to the many weeks of Town Council budget work sessions, where the real budget work is performed and the spending plan is crafted.
There is little voters can accomplish at the FTM other that approving or rejecting the budget. Yes, voters may increase or decrease the budget. But, voters cannot determine how the money is spent. That is the job of the Town Council.
If Jamestown stopped holding the FTM, perhaps more attention would be given by the voters to the Town Council budget work sessions. That’s where the decisions are made.
Surrounding communities have done away with their FTMs. But should the need arise, voters can petition for a referendum on the budget. That has happened in our neighboring communities.
The Town Council is elected every two years. In addition, state law limits annual increase in the town. So there is little chance of a Town Council running amok with our property taxes.
Perhaps it is time to make our FTM history.
— Jeff McDonough