Buxton Charter Commission
January 28, 2010
Submitted by Stephanie Grinnell
Call to order at 6:30 p.m. Present are Chairman Andy Townsend, Vice-Chairman Dianne Senechal, Selectman Dan Collomy, Judy Sjulander, May Schumacher, Jennifer Barschdorf, David Dunn and Brent Havu. Larry Miller was absent.
Barry Tibbetts, Kennebunk Town Manager (6:30)
Tibbetts began with a description of his more than 15 years in municipal government, most of which has been in Kennebunk. He has also participated in commissions with the governor. Recent charter changes have not all been tested, such as a referendum vote on the municipal budget. Other charter changes are anticipated to revert, such as allowing more than seven people to serve on any particular committee.
Selectmen are allowed – with a supermajority vote – to dip into the general fund for emergency spending without going to referendum as long as the amount is less than 2 percent of the previous years’ approved budget. Special town meetings are allowed, referendum votes are required for expenditures.
Kennebunk’s charter only includes committees that make legally binding decisions; other committees are established at the discretion of selectmen.
Town policy includes clauses about conflict of interest and ethical standards; charter states that policy must be in place, discussed and voted on each year. Charter changes increased budget committee membership from five to seven positions and require that budget committee and selectmen meet. Kennebunk’s budget changed from 90 days to 120 days delivery before referendum and includes a defined number of public hearings. Petition requirements were also changed.
This year will be the first time Kennebunk approves the budget with a referendum vote. Tibbetts said he broke down the budget into six or seven articles rather than voting on each line item, as is done in York. The cost of a six/seven article referendum vote is roughly $5,000 as opposed to between $28,000 and $40,000 for a line item referendum.
Another charter change allows the finance director and town manager, with a single selectman’s signature, to sign town warrants. A different selectman pays/signs bills each month.
Kennebunk has seven selectmen, recently changed from five. (Charter change implemented in July 2009) They meet twice per month, plus special meetings, totaling an additional 25 meetings per year.
Kennebunk does have a town meeting.
Kennebunk employs 70 (?) people full time.
Kennebunk’s population was 10,500 at last census, estimated 15,500 now.
Kennebunk’s annual municipal budget is $10 million.
Tibbetts does have an administrative assistant.
Tibbetts implements policies established by selectmen. He is responsible for all staff. Tibbetts appoints people upon selectmen confirmation. Department heads are approved by selectmen, other employees are hired by Tibbetts and department head. Selectmen are not on hiring committee but determine salary. Spouses of elected officials are prohibited from working for the town. Discipline/promotions are handled by Tibbetts and are confirmed by selectmen. Biggest challenges are budgets and charter as well as adjusting to increased number of selectmen. Personnel issues are the most difficult. Tibbetts works with a human resource team that is not paid by the town. Selectmen are paid $1,500 per year, with a $250 expense account.
Tibbetts’ salary starts at $88,350; he has $450 car allowance for gas and transportation per month. Education, conventions and out of state expenditures are paid by the town (about $3,500 per year). Tibbetts also has retirement through the state. Town contributes $10,000 to a PERS account. (PERS stands for Public Employees Retirement System)
Hiring a finance director five years ago was one of the smarter investments, Tibbetts said. The finance director saved his whole salary and more by reorganizing and grants.
Five minute recess.
Board of Selectmen, Town of Buxton (7:20)
Buxton selectmen requested information about returned public surveys and were given the survey results in terms of percentages.
Selectmen said current economic conditions are concerning, they have met once about upcoming budget to discuss revenue shortfalls from the state, as well as school funding. Buxton’s municipal budget is roughly $5 million. Selectmen have asked department heads to decrease approved budget from last year by at least 5 percent. The town has seen an increase of 37 percent in people seeking general assistance.
Buxton hiring process: position is advertised; candidates are interviewed by committee with a selectman present as well as the department head.
Selectmen described relationships with current department heads as good, communication is there and department heads call selectmen when needed. Selectmen are not “assigned” to each department, but duties are delegated if there is an issue.
Selectmen stated they do not feel one go-to person would be beneficial when personalities are taken into consideration and said a group process often results in a better outcome with more ideas discussed.
Buxton does not schedule department head meetings but selectmen meet with department heads about three times per year, most recently about the budget.
Selectmen stated they feel they have the time to consider long-term issues regarding the town.
Selectmen questioned the positions of charter commission members on creating a town manager position. Several commission members shared varied opinions regarding the need for a town manager.
Selectman Chairman Jean Harmon has human resources training. Lawyers are also available for personnel issues. Selectmen said typically, personnel issues are dealt with by department heads.
Selectmen suggested a personnel position may be more beneficial to the town than a manager but said they were not certain that position is warranted considering the low turnover of personnel, estimated at 1 person per year.*
Selectmen do not pursue grants, but department heads may do so.
Selectmen are paid $15 per day. Selectmen are permitted to request $10 per hour for workshops as well.
Tax rates were discussed as well as impact of increasing taxes. For every $700,000 the budget increases, taxes go up $1 for every thousand in valuation. (Example: if a person owns a $100,000 property/house, taxes would increase by $100 if the budget increased by $700,000)
Selectmen were asked to share opinions of the need for a town manager in Buxton. Selectmen said everything is being taken care of currently and expressed concern the town is not financially able to consider a manager at this time. Selectmen said the option should be explored for the future but voters will make the final decision.
Selectmen said charter changes they would like to see include changing the tax collector from an elected position to an appointed position.
[Andy was called to sand roads due to icy conditions at 8:45 p.m.; Jen left soon after due to a prior obligation.]
Approval of minutes from last meeting
Several changes were discussed to clarify minutes; minutes were tabled for further discussion. **Changes discussed include spelling - EBIN Marsh; correct ‘less than 400 surveys,’ to 338; and public hearing clarification – undetermined at this time.
A member of the public addressed the charter commission and said selectmen are accessible and said he did not feel the form of government needs to be changed. He requested a poll if the commission were to vote at that moment. Several commission members responded and encouraged more people to attend meetings and share input.
Another member of the public addressed the commission and said hiring a town manager would change the character of the town and said due to the time constraints of the meeting, he would return to speak further.
Review of Correspondence
The secretary was excused early, no correspondence was addressed.
Charter Commission Meeting, Thursday, February 11, 2010, at 6:30 p.m. with former town manager Ebin Marsh; Standish councilor and Gorham councilor
Charter Commission Meeting, Thursday, February 18, 2010 6:30pm
Adjournment at 9:15 p.m.
*Original minutes revised to reflect estimated turnover of 1 employee per year, per commission request.
Revised minutes submitted by Stephanie Grinnell Feb. 15, 2010.