NORTH STONINGTON — Voters have approved proposals that will alter the town's election and petition processes, update its schedule of fees, allow for the purchase of radio communication equipment for the fire department and permit the sale of a town fire truck.
The measures were approved Monday evening during a hybrid special town meeting held at the Wheeler School Gymnatorium. While the majority of the seven questions passed, voters rejected two other measures, including a request to approve a $60,325 appropriation for the purchase of financial software that would bring the town and Board of Education together under one system.
First Selectmen Mike Urgo said he was pleased with both the turnout and general participation. Although not all the measures passed, he said it was good to get back to some sense of normal business in the community.
“It was a first try at something like this (hybrid meeting), and the process had a few minor issues but overall it was very well received,” Urgo said. “There was definitely an issue with sound quality in the space, but people could still hear the presentation and comments, so hopefully we can build on this experience in the future.”
Officials said that for a referendum that did not include the annual budget, the special town meeting was well attended. There were 122 people who participated in voting, with approximately 40 individuals attending in person and the rest taking part virtually. Not all who participated voted on every question.
For voters in the community, some of whom spoke during the public comment portion of the meeting, the purchase of software equipment was simply not a need at this point.
Officials are seeking to find balance one year into a global pandemic while also working with a revaluation that led some in the community to see a more than 40% increase in property value and, as a result, a sizable increase in tax liability. The purchase, which was rejected by a 54-47 margin, would have allowed the town to address a need and bring both the school district and town together in a single software program.
Urgo said town staff sought to expedite the purchase in order to have the program installed and any issues worked out in advance of the 2022-23 budget process. The purchase would also have simultaneously prevented the need for including the software, which is seen as an eventual necessity, in the coming fiscal budget.
The rejection of the financial software purchase is disappointing, Urgo said, but that does not mean that the proposal is dead in the water either. He said the town could still pursue funding through the coming annual budget or by using federal rescue funds, though both could still be an uphill battle.
“There are ways to still address this, but we are going to need to look at other options and do so in a manner that the voters agree with,” Urgo said.
A combined measure requesting amendments to the ordinances for Municipal Building Committee and Finance Board, and a streamlined process for the Town Clerk to publish abbreviated amendments once passed was also rejected, 81-25.
Measures approved included an ordinance to alter the town's election process to allow for residents to select two candidates to serve on the Board of Selectmen rather than one, passing 70-52; an ordinance amendment that will increase the minimum number of required signatures on any petition to 50, which passed 60-55 with some not voting; and an updated schedules of fees for the building department, which passed 75-29.
Residents also voted 75-29 to approve the sale of the town’s 1993 Peterbilt Tanker/Pumper Truck used by the North Stonington Volunteer Fire Department, which was recently taken out of service after more than 25 years in use, and the fire department was also granted an appropriation for $35,000 for the purchase of radio communication equipment by an 83-24 vote.
The measures are seen as a win for residents, who saw several of the measures passed added to the special town meeting after campaigning for changes.
Brett Mastroianni, who serves as the chairman of the North Stonington Republican Town Committee, was among those who supported the petition regarding the election of the Board of Selectmen election process and said it is designed to improve resident participation and choice. He said such an amendment would enhance the ability to get more candidates involved, which would lead to further sharing of ideas and wider interest among members of the community.
Urgo said the measures will only enhance government operations and public participation. The increase in the number of signatures required for petition helps address population growth and assures there is support for a measure before voters are asked to spend their time considering it.
Meanwhile, the measure updating the town’s schedule of fees marks the first update to the fees in nearly a quarter-century.
“We felt it was time to bring our schedule to current-day standards, and the public agreed,” he said.