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Charter questions on Southington ballot
1) Shall section 601 of the Southington Town Charter be amended to change the police and fire commissions to advisory boards and have the chiefs hired by and report to the town manager?
2) Shall section 708 and 736 of the Southington Town Charter be amended to increase the amount of expenditures for purchases and contracts without going to bid from $10,000 and $5,000 respectively to $25,000?
3) Shall section 733 of the Southington Town Charter be amended to allow the town manager to authorize transfers within an office, department, or agency’s budget up to $1,000 into and out of a line item within the fiscal year?
SOUTHINGTON — When voters go to the polls Nov. 5, they won’t just be electing candidates for office. Three potential changes to the Town Charter top the ballot — including a shift in oversight of the police and fire departments.
The first ballot question asks voters if they would like to give the town manager authority over the police and fire chiefs and turn the current boards of police and fire commissioners into advisory boards. The Charter Revision Commission voted 3-2 to place the question on the ballot with three Republicans in support and two Democrats opposed.
Charter Revision Commission Chairman Brian Callahan said having the police and fire chief’s report to the town manager would be an advantage for the departments. He said the town manager could “pool resources” for the department, seek grants, streamline purchasing and both departments would report to the same person. He also mentioned those on the police and fire boards are part-time volunteers while the town manager is full-time.
“To me this is a no-brainer,” said Callahan, who also serves as Republican town chairman.
But Dennis Conroy, a Democrat on the charter commission, said he thought the change would give too much power to the town manager. He feels the police and fire boards should keep their authority and he said he “urges” residents to vote ‘No’ against the change.
“From my perspective, it’s removing citizen oversight and input,” Conroy said. “I don’t think it’s a good idea.”
The second question on the ballot asks voters if they would like to raise the minimum monetary threshold for putting town contracts out to bid from $10,000 to $25,000 and raise the amount for Public Works contracts requiring public bidding from $5,000 to $25,000.
“They haven’t been changed in many years,” said Deputy Town Manager and Town Attorney Mark Sciota. They “wanted to update those and both sections would go to $25,000.”
“These new numbers reflect a normal inflation and the increase of costs, parts, and components and things,” Callahan said.
The third question asks voters whether to allow the town manager to authorize transfers of up to $1,000 into or out of a line item within a department’s budget.
Currently, “any time a department wants to transfer money from one section to another (in their internal) budget, they need to apply to the town manager and then the Board of Finance would make a ruling and then it would go to the Town Council,” Sciota said.
This would allow the town manager to authorize the transfer of up to $1,000 in or out of a line item and then report it to the finance board at its next meeting, Sciota added.
“Those questions are basically making it easier for the people in the bureaucracy to spend the money,” Conroy said of questions two and three. “Right now there is a limit, a limit on what they can spend before getting approval from the Board of Finance. That will raise those limits.”
“It’s going to come down to the public and their vote at referendum and that’s the way it should be,” said Callahan.
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