The Annual Town Meeting – meeting outdoors on the AHS football field due to coronavirus – took just about 2 hours to pass all 30 articles on the warrant.
The key issue was the annual budget, proposed at $71.9 million for fiscal year 2021, a 1.4% increase over FY2020. The budget came with clear warnings from the Finance Committee, Town CFO, and Town Manager that the state aid figures are certainly going to change and budget changes will be necessary. The question is not if, it is how much. Town Meeting members were informed that most likely a special Town Meeting would be called mid to late summer, once more financial guidance is received from the state.
The only warrant articles that created any real discussion were Articles 21 and 23.
Article 21 sought $25,000 to maintain Julia Bancroft School during this interim period between the school’s closure and the developer – Penrose Properties – taking ownership of the site.
“The money is for basic maintenance and for insurance on the building” clarified Town Manager Julie Jacobson in response to a question by Town Meeting Member Dan Largesse. Jacobson explained that if all goes according to the plan and timeline originally laid out two years ago, then the JB School would be transferred to Penrose within a year, and this would be the last year of Auburn providing for insurance and maintenance there. She did add the caveat that the current pandemic could alter that timeline, as the project is dependent on state and federal grants and tax incentives.
Article 23 was ultimately the only close vote, and that seemed due more to confusion than to the actual content of the Article. Art. 23 sought to eliminate the need to do a physical count on warrant articles requiring a supermajority – or a 2/3 vote of those present – in order for the article to pass. [Some articles require a simple majority; others require a supermajority such as certain changes to bylaws].
As it currently stands in Auburn, the moderator must call for a count on each and every supermajority voter, which can be very time consuming depending on the items contained in a given warrant. In many cases, the votes are nearly unanimous anyway, rendering the count pointless. An article presented at the beginning of Town Meeting sought to implement the new rule outlined in Article 23 for just the June 2, 2020 Town Meeting as something of a trial run. That article passed, and the rule was followed for the 2020 Annual Town Meeting.
Article 23 sought to make this procedural change permanent, but some Town Meeting Members seemed to believe the article sought to eliminate the need for supermajority votes entirely (which would not be allowed under state law). In reality, the article simply allows for the moderator to call a 2/3 majority vote the same way s/he would call a simple majority vote – by show of hands. If the vote appears close to the moderator, s/he may then request a physical count by show of hands. Article 23 simply sought to extend the voting procedure used for simple majority votes to the supermajority votes, as well. Town Meeting Members retain the right to “question a vote” and force a hand count regardless of the Moderator’s determination.
The article narrowly passed 47-42.
The only other real drama was a passing rainshower under ominous skies that threatened to add a whole new dimension to the first outdoor Town Meeting in memory (maybe ever). Fortunately, after a few sprinkles, the rain subsided for the remainder of the evening.