CHARLESTOWN — The second time was the charm for the 2019-10 Charlestown budget.
Voters approved the $28 million spending plan, with 238 in favor and 27 opposed. Voter turnout for Monday’s budget referendum was about 4 percent.
Town Council President Virginia Lee said she was pleased that the budget had passed.
“I am pleased that the budget referendum passed today and that people made the effort to vote on a beautiful day,” she said. “Civic responsibility matters.”
Voters rejected the first proposed budget in the June 3 referendum. The defeat was attributed to a $3.1 million allocation for a community center project that residents said needed more public discussion.
At a public hearing on June 8, the Town Council made several changes to the budget, removing the controversial $3.1 million line item and returning $1 million of the town’s surplus to homeowners in the form of a property tax reduction.
The revised budget lowers the tax rate from the current $9.64 per $1,000 to $9.23.
Council Vice President Deborah Carney, who, like Lee, supported the amended budget, said she was pleased that voters had approved it.
“I am grateful that the budget passed this evening,” she said after learning of the referendum results.
Carney noted, however, that as the town's surplus grew larger, property taxes continued to rise. A new ordinance, she said, would prevent similar situations in the future.
“Over the past four years, the town’s surplus increased by approximately $3 million, and during that time, the town also had tax increases,” she said. “So we were amassing a $3 million surplus and increasing our taxes at the same time.”
Carney said she would also ask for changes in the town charter to ensure that large allocations, such as the line item for the community center, cannot be set aside unless details of the project are provided.
“I think the town charter needs to be reviewed in order to prevent a situation where a town council can put a large non-emergency expenditure in the budget without providing any details to the voters,” she said.
The new budget includes $74,500 for an independent townwide survey that will ask residents which recreational facilities they would like to see in Charlestown.
“That would be the next order of business, (to) put together the parameters of the professional survey,” Lee said.