NORTH STONINGTON — Former First Selectman Shawn Murphy entreated residents on Thursday to sign a petition asking that the wording of an upcoming budget referendum be changed to allow for split votes for municipal, capital, and school spending.
His proposal would return, essentially, to the system that prevailed under previous boards of selectmen. Faced with a single-question ballot several weeks ago, town voters decisively rejected the proposed budget 498-266.
Murphy, who did not run for re-election in 2017 after serving one term, said that if the petition gets at least 200 signatures and is validated by the town clerk, the selectmen "have to honor the three questions.”
“The new budget has a 4.5 tax increase, but none of it is related to the school building project,” Murphy said in a Facebook posting. “If they had an increase in mortgage payments, that would be a good reason for an increase of that size. ...The line item in the budget for the school project was actually a lower number than the current year.”
Murphy contended that the budget "was discussed, but not thoroughly, so people thought the large increase was not justified ... we’re back at the drawing board to do a revised budget with no input as to why (the first) budget failed.”
The single question referendum took effect after Mike Urgo was elected first selectman in 2017. Before that, residents voted separately on the municipal and school budgets.
The petition asks for the budget referendum to have three questions, so that voters could decide separately on the general government operating and debt budgets, the general government capital budget, and the Board of Education budget.
“This is affording the voter more of a say,” Murphy wrote. “Take it or leave it, this is your choice.” He made his announcement on a North Stonington Town Group Facebook page. A single question, he argued, "takes away our say in the process.”
In response Urgo said: “Voters have all have different reasons for voting the way they do and whether we have 1,2,3, or 100 questions there will still be unknown reasons as to why the results are what they are.”
“While it is everyone’s right to petition anything they would like in our non-chartered town, there are reasons that I support one budget question,” he added.
“It costs approximately $5,000 per referendum held,” Urgo wrote. "Until both or all budgets pass, we technically have no budget, which really holds the town back from moving business forward.”
In addition, he said, separating the budget components promotes divisiveness “and tends to pit things against each other such as school vs. town, etc., and that is not the collaborative way we have been trying to work together.”
Urgo said he supported doing a survey after the budget vote to get feedback, but that he didn't support breaking up the ballot. He urged his constituents not to support a three-question referendum.