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A Good Way To Control Municipal Spending…….

Let The People Decide!

Here in Belmar the petitioners had to work so hard.  Those concerned about overdevelopment and overspending at the beachfront had to collect petitions multiple times, with the administration managing to wiggle out of each one of them.  Finally this last one is sticking and we will have a special election August 19th on whether to approve or (hopefully) reject a $7 million bond to build two pavilions.  It’s unfortunate that we have to spend well over $17,000 to have a special election because the administration didn’t want the vote to be held in the general election in November.

The residents of New Hampshire, I’ve learned recently, have it much easier.  All major municipal issues, including spending initiatives and town budgets, are automatically put to a public vote every year at annual town meetings.  Here is an excerpt  from the Wikipedia article about it:


In New Hampshire, towns, cities, unincorporated places and villages, and school districts have the option of two main types of annual meeting: Traditional meetings, or ballot-vote meetings that are known informally as “SB 2” or “Senate Bill 2”. Each political subdivision can choose their form of meeting.

Traditional town meetings[edit]

Traditional Town Meetings, or Open Meetings, are held annually on the second Tuesday of March to choose town officers and the transaction of all other town business. Town selectmen are also permitted to call special town meetings as warranted, although these must be approved by a judge if they involve budgetary expenditures or changes. Town meetings are prohibited, by state law, from being held on the biennial election day, which is typically held in November to elect county, state and national officials.

A town moderator is allowed under state law to adjourn a meeting that has run for a very long period and reconvene it at a later date, usually one week from the date of the meeting, and usually in the same location, in order to finish the town’s business.

Official ballot referendums (SB 2)[edit]

The SB 2 form of government was instituted by the state legislature in 1995 because of concerns that modern lifestyles had made it difficult for people to attend traditional town meetings. Residents vote in an SB 2 election at a polling place throughout the day. They may also vote by absentee ballot. Municipalities that have adopted the SB 2 form of government may switch back to the traditional town meeting form by a 3/5 majority vote.

Under SB 2, a first session, called a “Deliberative Session”, is held about a month prior to the town election. This session is similar in many ways to the traditional town meeting. However, unlike the town meeting, while the wording and dollar amounts of proposed ballot measures may be amended, no actual voting on the merits of the proposals takes place. The second session, held on a set election day, is when issues such as the town’s budget and other measures, known as warrant articles, are voted upon. When adopting SB 2, towns or school districts may hold elections on the second Tuesday in March, the second Tuesday in April, or the second Tuesday in May. The election dates may be changed by majority vote. If a vote is taken to approve the change of the local elections, the date becomes effective the following year.

In 2002, according to the University of New Hampshire Center for Public Policy studies, 171 towns in New Hampshire had traditional town meeting, while 48 had SB 2. Another 15 municipalities, most of them incorporated cities, had no annual meeting. The study found that 102 school districts had traditional town meeting, 64 had SB 2 meeting and 10 had no annual meeting.

Because traditional-meeting communities tend to be smaller, only one-third of the state’s population was governed by traditional town meetings in 2002, and only 22 percent by traditional school-district meetings.

Official ballot town council[edit]
Main article: Town Council
The Official Ballot Town Council is a variant form of the Town Council, in which certain items are to be placed on the ballot to be voted on by the registered voters. This process mimics the SB 2 process, except that the Town Council makes the determination of what items will go on the ballot.

Budgetary town meeting[edit]
The Budgetary Town Meeting is a variation of the Open Meeting, but only the annual town operating budget as presented by the governing body can be voted on by the registered voters. When a town charter provides for a Budgetary Town Meeting also must establish the procedures for the transfer of funds among various departments, funds, accounts and agencies as may be necessary during the year.

Representative town meeting[edit]
Main article: Representative Town Meeting
State law also allows for a Representative Town Meeting, similar to that of a Town Council, although as of 2006 the practice is not used by a town or school district in New Hampshire. Voters elect a small number of residents to act as the legislative body instead of them, however no town in the state has done so. Representative Town Meetings follow the same procedure and address the same issues as traditional town meetings, except they cannot consider matters which state law or the charter states must be placed on the official ballot of the town.

Moderators are elected to two-year terms on even years in towns and are elected in city wards at every other city election. The moderator’s duties include presiding over town meetings, regulating the business thereof, deciding questions of order, making public declarations of each vote passed, and prescribing rules of proceeding which may be altered by the town as need.

The moderator also has the authority to postpone and reschedule the deliberative session or voting day of the meeting to another reasonable date, place, and time certain in the case of a weather emergency in which the moderator reasonably believes the roads to be hazardous or unsafe.

Note that towns do have the option of electing representatives to make spending decisions instead of allowing the people to vote on it directly.  Also note that not a single town in New Hampshire has chosen that option.

Here is a WMUR report on this year’s town meetings, held last March:

New Hampshire has no state income tax

New Hampshire has no general sales tax.

Nearly the entire cost of state, county and municipal government in New Hampshire is funded through property taxes.  Yes, their property taxes are high.  But they’re still lower than ours and they pay for nearly everything.  Even free beaches.

There’s a lot of reasons government up there costs less than half of what it costs down here.  One big factor is that the labor unions don’t own all the state and local politicians in New Hampshire like they do in New Jersey.  But I think letting the citizens decide their towns’ spending priorities really helps control municipal budgets and that practice is something we should be doing here.

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