WATERTOWN — The Town Charter Revision Commission, meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, September 24, discussed possible changes to the town manager and finance director’s responsibilities in the charter as well as the role of the fire department.
Town Manager Robert Scannell and Finance Director Susan Zappone were invited to speak about their responsibilities as stated in the charter and provide change recommendations.
Mr. Scannell suggested that the commission revise the charter so that the town manager and police chief are responsible for traffic control, adding that this is the case in other towns.
In town, the police commission handles traffic control.
Mr. Scannell said that he feels the police commission, which is composed of volunteers, gets overwhelmed with requests for traffic control changes.
The commission discussed Section 602 regarding the Department of Finance.
Ms. Zappone and Mr. Scannell requested that the limit of funds they can use to purchase equipment or services without council approval be raised.
Currently if the town manager’s office wants to purchase something over $10,000, it would have to go before the council for approval.
Ms. Zappone and Mr. Scannell suggested raising the allotted amount to $20,000. Ms. Zappone said that the old number was 10 years old and outdated.
The two pointed the commission’s attention to Section 704 regarding the powers of the council as to finance expenditures.
They asked the commission to raise the amount the town manager’s office can spend on outside contracts without town council approval from $2,500 to $5,000.
They asked the commission to raise the amount the town manager’s office can transfer to various departments without town council approval from $25,000 to $50,000.
They added that an increase to funds that the town manager can handle without town council approval is needed, because the town is handling more funds than it did in 2011 when the charter received its last update.
Mr. Scannell brought forward an issue with the last line of Section 801 in the charter, regarding retirement of municipal employees.
In the charter the line reads “No appointment shall be made to a position, the term of office which is specified by State Statute, which appointment would carry service beyond the age set forth in the ordinance for such retirement.”
This part of the charter bars the town from hiring new employees older than a certain age.
Mr. Scannell said that the line sounds discriminatory and may be illegal.
Attorney for the town Frank Pilicy replied that the line is not illegal, but is “troublesome.”
The commission asked about the fiscal year and budget referendum. There have been ideas to change the fiscal year of the town in order to bring it more in line with the state’s budget decisions.
Often the town’s budget is completed and sent to referendum, before the state’s budget is passed. This creates a situation where potentially millions of dollars in state grants are unaccounted for in the town budget, until the state budget is officially passed.
Mr. Scannell and Ms. Zappone said that waiting on legislators in Hartford to pass budgets has been troublesome in the past and that the charter commission should look into when the town should conduct its budget referendums.
Commission member Rachel Ryan asked if there should be an emergency appropriations section in the charter so the town manager and finance director can process emergency payments without town council approval.
Ms. Zappone said that for the most part they are able to handle emergency payments and get town council approval, but it may be something that the commission could consider.
The town manager’s office and the finance department’s main suggestion to the commission was to update fund transfer numbers and update language of various sections.
After hearing from Mr. Scannell and Ms. Zappone, the commission invited Fire Chief David Bromley and Deputy Chief James DeMarest, Jr.
The section of the charter that deals with the Volunteer Fire Department is Section 605.
The fire department operates mostly independently from the town government.
The charter reads “So long as the volunteer fire department shall continue to function to the satisfaction of the council, the members of said volunteer fire department may make their own rules and by-laws, elect their own chief and other officers and members, and otherwise control their own affairs.”
Mr. Bromley said that the system has worked well for both parties over the years.
He told the commission that since the fire department is made up of volunteers, they are saving the town six million dollars every year.
There are currently 87 volunteer firefighters in the department.
Mr. Pilicy said that the fire department’s role in the charter has remained unchanged for decades.
The commission did not suggest any changes to the fire department under the town charter.
After some discussion with the Chief Bromley and Deputy Chief DeMarest, the commission went on to handle previous business.
Commission Chair Robert Kane told the commission that Mr. Pilicy has begun drafting new language for the town clerk’s role in the charter. He told members of the commission to look into ways that the language should be changed.
Mr. Kane then gave an outline for the next commission meeting for Tuesday, October 8.
During the meeting the commission will invite the police chief, members of the Planning and Zoning department and the Public Works department and the superintendent of the Water and Sewer department.
The commission will review those positions’ responsibilities in the charter and ask for recommendations.
Those seeking additional information on the meeting may visit http://www.watertownct.org/content/10290/15783/default.aspx.
Physical copies of the town charter can be picked up at the Town Manager’s Office, 424 Main St. An online copy is available to view on the town website underneath the town charter tab.