SOUTHINGTON — While Democrats took control of the Town Council in the recent election, Republicans kept their majority on the Board of Finance.
Democrats gained two council seats this election, giving them a 5 to 4 majority. Republicans maintained their four seats on the six-member finance board.
“For finances, (voters) have placed their confidence in the Republican majority,” said John Leary, a Republican and board chairman who won his reelection bid this month.
The Board of Education and town manager recommend spending plans to the Board of Finance, which creates a town budget. The council can approve the budget or take no action, in which case the finance board’s plan goes into effect.
Adjusting the budget requires a two-thirds majority of the council, or at least six members.
Leary said a situation could arise where the council wants to change the budget, in which case either party would have to get one or two members of the opposing party to join them. Leary didn’t expect that, though.
Prior to a town charter change in 2009, the Board of Finance was comprised of three members of each party. After the change, the charter allowed one party to hold up to four seats.
Since the change, there hasn’t been a situation where the Board of Finance and Town Council were controlled by opposing parties.
“It puts more authority in the Board of Finance than we’ve ever had before,” Leary said of the current situation. “The Board of Finance becomes the main voice of the budget.”
John Moise, a former finance board Democrat who lost his reelection bid, said he was glad that Democrats gained the council majority and expected better communication between the council and the board.
“It’s a different situation now,” he said. “All financial situations are going to go through the Board of Finance properly.”
He was also confident that the incumbent board members and the two new members, Republican Tony Morrison and Democrat Susan Zoni, would do a good job.
During his first council meeting as chairman, Democrat Chris Palmieri said he wanted to reinstate monthly meetings of the chairs of town boards and commissions, including the finance board. Leary said the communication would be important.
In those meetings, Palmieri will meet with chairs of the finance board, the Planning and Zoning Commission and the Board of Education, who are all Republicans. Palmieri said he has no problems working with Republicans and has done so successfully while in the council minority.
“Everyone is excited about doing that,” Palmieri said. “I really think it’s going to greatly help improve communication.”
A vote to modify a finance board budget isn’t necessarily a bad thing, according to Palmieri.
In recent years finance board budgets have been accepted by the council without adjustment but not because both groups were Republican-led, according to Leary.
“We didn’t orchestrate it that way,” he said.