May 24, 2022

MacMillian asks for Split Vote, Referendum on 2012-2013 Town Budget

Bruce MacMillian

ESSEX— Bruce MacMillian, the unsuccessful Republican nominee for first selectman in last fall’s town election, has asked the board of selectmen for a split vote and a referendum on the town/elementary school budget plan for 2012-2013.

Appearing at Wednesday’s board meeting, MacMillian urged the selectmen to authorize separate votes on the town government and Essex Elementary School budgets. He also called for a referendum vote on the budgets in place of the planned May 14 annual budget meeting. MacMillian said separate votes on town and school budgets has been allowed under state law for nearly a decade, with 39 Connecticut cities and towns currently using a split vote.

MacMillian, who lost to Democratic First Selectman Norman Needleman by 399 votes in the Nov. 8 election, praised Needleman and the current board for “an outstanding job in the preparation and presentation” of the proposed $6.85 million town government budget, including preparation of a detailed “citizens guide to the Essex town budget” handout. He contended a separate vote on the town government and elementary school budgets would be “the next step in transparency.”

MacMillian noted the town’s $7.4 million share of the Region 4 education budget will already be acted on in a three-town referendum on May 8. He contended a separate vote on the town and elementary school budgets would give voters “more options.”

MacMillian also requested a referendum vote on the 2012-2013 budget, whether the spending plans are presented for a separate vote or not. The town budget was sent to a referendum vote last year after an initial spending plan was rejected on a paper ballot vote at the annual budget meeting in May. A revised and reduced budget was approved on a 532-438 vote in a June 7 referendum.

The board of selectmen, with Needleman as a member, had sent the 2009 budget directly to a referendum, where it was approved in a low voter turnout. In 2010, the budget was approved on a voice vote at the annual meeting.

Needleman acknowledged a separate vote on town and school budgets is allowed under state law, but said he is not in favor of separate votes, and does not believe 2012 is the year to use a split vote for the first time. Needleman added that he would prefer the 2012-2013 budget be voted on at the annual budget meeting, not a referendum, suggesting it is “uniquely New England” to vote on municipal budgets at a town meeting.

Selectman Joel Marzi, MacMillian’s GOP running-mate last fall, said he views referendums as a “last resort” option for voting on a town budget. Marzi suggested holding a paper ballot, rather than show-of-hands vote, at the May 14 annual budget meeting as a compromise option. He also questioned whether a town meeting approved ordinance would be needed to set up a split vote procedure for the town and elementary school budgets.

While the board of finance is also expected to discuss MacMillian’s request for a separate vote, it is likely the town and elementary school budgets will be going to the voters next month as a package. Though MacMillian or others could petition to force the budget to a referendum, it also appears likely the budget plan will go to a paper ballot vote at the May 14 town meeting. The town and elementary school budgets will be presented for discussion at the annual budget hearing on Thursday April 19 at 8 p.m. in the auditorium at town hall.