The Easton Board of Selectmen has voted to eliminate language in the Annual Town Meeting notice that enabled residents to decrease but not increase the proposed budget.
As in recent years, the upcoming Annual Town Meeting will allow for discussion on the budget and then adjourn to a referendum vote, which will take place May 8 this year.
In past years, the meeting notice stated participants could take action to decrease but not increase the proposed budget amount. Easton First Selectman Adam Dunsby said that approach “strikes me as unfair” so he sought a legal opinion on the matter from the Berchem Moses law firm, which does legal work for the town.
The Berchem Moses legal opinion points out that the public has the opportunity to speak about adjusting the budget up or down at a prior Board of Finance public hearing. While state law does prohibit a town meeting from increasing the proposed budget, the legal opinion advises, town officials don’t have to allow specific motions to change the proposed budget at a town meeting.
Based on the selectmen’s unanimous vote at the April 5 meeting, the agenda for the Annual Town Meeting on Monday, April 30, won’t have language allowing for attempts to lower the budget but will include a specific item allowing for “discussion” on the budget.
Dunsby said he’d been confused about why the budget could be reduced but not increased at a town meeting, noting this had concerned some parents when it came to the school budget. The legal opinion found the town has “no obligation” to allow for the possible decrease in the budget, he said.
Selectman Robert Lessler agreed with Dunsby that it seemed awkward the budget could only be lowered and not increased at the Annual Town Meeting. “I’m actually pleased to take a new look at this,” he said.
“I’m comfortable with changing the language,” Selectman Carolyn Colangelo said.
Dunsby said he doesn’t recall anyone in recent years moving to lower the budget at a town meeting, but failing to change the language could make that a possibility.