By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
CONCORD — Deliberative sessions could become a thing of the past in official ballot, or SB 2, towns and school districts if a bill passes the New Hampshire Senate this week.
The Senate will vote on House Bill 1375 — which as amended by the Senate Public and Municipal Affairs Committee last week would authorize so-called SB 2 towns to do away with the deliberative session, allowing people to vote on warrant articles without the typical discussion and possible amendments made by a small number of people.
Sen. Nancy Siles (R-Hampton), one of the sponsors of the original bill and an architect of the Senate amendment, said yesterday that the bill began as effort to address problems towns and school districts have encountered in calculating default budgets, which are adopted if voters reject the budget recommended by the Board of Selectmen or Budget Committee.
The default budget is calculated by adding or subtracting debt service, binding contracts and other obligations from the operating budget of the prior year then further eliminating any one-time expenditures. Some critics claim that one-time expenditures are rarely eliminated, while others suggest default budgets should reflect reductions in costs achieved by trimming payroll, energy efficiencies and the like.
The original bill, which easily carried the House of Representatives, would have enabled, but not required, towns to adopt a charter for the sole purpose of changing the the procedure for considering, amending and adopting the operating or default budget. This approach met with reservations from both the Department of Revenue Administration and the Secretary of State.
The Senate Public and Municipal Affairs Committee abandoned the notion of a charter altogether and instead chose to offer voters the choice of one of two options. Voters could forbid any amendments to the operating budget at the deliberative session. Or they could scuttle the deliberative session altogether. Or they could choose to do nothing at all.
Finally, whether or not they adopt one of the first two options, voters could require that both the operating budget and the default budget appear on the official ballot. Voters would vote on both budgets and whichever carries would be adopted. If both fail, a special meeting to adopt an operating budget.
All three options would require a super majority of three-fifths, or 60 percent, for adoption.
Stiles said the Senate amendment not only addresses the the budget process as intended by the original bill, but also the recurrent complaint that deliberative sessions are poorly attended and often dominated by a small group seeking to serve a special interest by amending the budget.
The Senate is scheduled to vote on HB 1375 when it meets on Thursday, May 12. Scott Dunn, the town administrator in Gilford, said that as the Senate amended the bill last week the Board of Selectmen have yet to have an opportunity to consider it. No other officials could be reached for comment on the proposal.