Town Meeting 2023: Traditional Town Meeting and SB2 offer residents two ways to decide

By BILL FONDA

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Published: 03-06-2023 3:28 PM

The name “SB2” comes from the bill that created it, Senate Bill 2 in 1995, and it became the official name for the ballot referendum form of government in 2000.

Under SB2, Town Meeting is done over two sessions. The first is the deliberative session, which is like a traditional Town Meeting in that articles can be articles can be explained, discussed, debated and amended.

However, decisions made during the deliberative session are not the final decisions, but instead decide whether the articles will appear on the ballot as presented or after amendments.

The second session of Town Meeting is the voting session, in which residents cast their votes in local elections, zoning articles and all warrant articles.

Locally, the towns of Bennington, New Ipswich and Rindge, along with they ConVal, Jaffrey-Rindge, Mason and Mascenic school districts, operate under SB2. Their voting session is March 14.

One of the warrant articles is the annual operating budget. If the operating budget fails, the town or school district must either call a special meeting to consider a revised operating budget or allow a default budget to take effect.

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The default budget includes the same appropriations as the previous year’s operating budget, plus debt service, contracts and other obligations previously incurred or mandated by law, and minus one-time expenditures from the operating budget.

Locally, the Jaffrey-Rindge school budget failed at the ballot box last year, forcing the district to operate under a default budget of just under $27 million instead of the $27.5 million budget it proposed.

Town Meeting

Town Meeting is the traditional "pure democracy" form of town government, where the voters are the legislative body, gathering to debate, amend and vote on warrant articles, all under the supervision of the town’s moderator.

Antrim, Dublin, Francestown, Greenfield, Greenville, Hancock, Jaffrey, Lyndeborough, Mason, Peterborough, Sharon, Temple and Wilton all operate under this form of government. Wilton-Lyndeborough Cooperative School District has a district meeting, scheduled this year for March 11.

With four exceptions, all will hold their town elections March 14, with Town Meeting to follow on March 18.

Sharon holds both its election and Town Meeting on March 14, with the election from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Town Meeting beginning at 8 p.m.

Antrim and Wilton both have their elections on March 14, with Town Meeting March 16.

Peterborough’s town election is May 9, and Town Meeting is May 10. However, Peterborough residents vote March 14 in the ConVal school election.

Amendments

Under both traditional Town Meeting and SB2, residents can amend articles, although there are limits. For example, an amendment may not add a new purpose to a warrant article under RSA 39:2, which states, “The subject matter of all business to be acted upon at the town meeting shall be distinctly stated in the warrant, and nothing done at any meeting, except the election of any town officer required by law to be made at such meeting, shall be valid unless the subject thereof is so stated…”

According to the New Hampshire Municipal Association, this is in part so residents can know in advance what issues will be discussed at Town Meeting.

Also, an amendment may delete a proposed appropriation or reduce it to zero, but may not change the purpose of the appropriation from what is in the warrant and budget.

In SB2 towns, residents can amend articles at a deliberative session, as long as the amendments do not add new subject matter to an article, do not change an article whose wording is prescribed by law, do not increase the overall budget (including warrant articles) by more than 10 percent and do not “eliminate the subject matter” of an article.

Regarding the “subject matter” clause, the New Hampshire Municipal Association refers to a case from Exeter, in which the deliberative session in 2011 amended an article proposing the establishment of a budget committee to read “To see if the [town] will not establish an official budget committee…” and added language to continue with the current advisory budget committee.

Because the results of ballot voting could not have resulted in a budget committee  being formed, the Superior Court ruled that the amendment was not permissible

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