Most municipalities in Maine operate under a town meeting form of government. For many New England towns, it has been that way since colonial times.
The town meeting is sometimes referred to as the purest form of democracy because citizens – not elected officials – make the important decisions for the operations of the town. In this direct form of government, elected officials carry out the will of the voters who are responsible for the adoption of laws and the raising of funds each year.
Over the last two years, the COVID-19 pandemic changed the way town meetings have traditionally been held. From drive-in meetings to referendum-only events, legal modifications were made to the laws governing town meetings to allow voters to gather and make decisions, even if it wasn’t in the in-person fashion they are accustomed to.
Town meeting season is once again upon us and, for the most part, towns are reverting to in-person meetings. There is a lot to discuss. In Tremont, changes to the land use ordinance to regulate campgrounds will come before voters. Bar Harbor voters will get to weigh in on retail marijuana businesses. Voters in all towns will be presented with municipal and school budgets, as well as ordinance changes and funding requests from third-party organizations that perform work in the towns.
Keep in mind that each decision made by the voters – also known as the legislative body of the town – has a direct impact for town operations over the coming year. And money is needed every time an article that requires funding is passed. Some money is taken from reserves, but the majority is raised through taxation.
We urge residents to participate in their town’s meeting and to familiarize themselves with the warrant before they go. Ask questions and read the town report, but most importantly, show up and vote.
In a participatory democracy, it is responsibility of the voters to come together and declare the direction in which they want their town to go. Big decisions are made at town meeting. If you don’t participate, don’t be surprised if things don’t go the way you would like.