Viewpoint: What Article 7 budget changes would actually do 

By Jake Jagel

Bar Harbor Charter modification questions on the November ballot include very major changes to our town government. So please take time to look beyond reassuring ballot questions and rationales to compare our current Town Charter with the multitude of proposed changes in the Charter Commission’s final report and the November warrant. 

The Article 7 ballot question, for instance, fails to mention major changes to Town Budget processes. It simply asks, “Shall the Town of Bar Harbor approve the charter modification to establish a new process for the development and adoption of the annual budget that provides for both the Town Council and Warrant Committee to conduct their reviews concurrently as presented in the Town Meeting Warrant?” 

This sounds nice, but Warrant Committee members can already receive copies of the manager’s proposed budget at the same time as town councilors, and the Town Council can continue to review the budget during Warrant Committee review. Is this charter change even needed? More importantly, what would the Article 7 charter modifications actually do 

Changes to §C-31.A and deletion of §C-31.B would entirely eliminate town-wide budget preparation deadlines for capital improvement and operating budget requests for all town departments and town boards and committees except the school committee.  

Changes to §C-31.D means that the Warrant Committee could review only the municipal portion of the manager’s budget, but not the education budget. 

§C-31.G changes would allow the Town Council to hold a hearing, review the budget, adopt it with or without changes and recommend its budget directly to Town Meeting, without first recommending it to the Warrant Committee, as now required. 

Deletion of §C-31.H of the charter means that “the complete detailed budget as adopted by Town Council” would no longer be submitted to the Warrant Committee for review.  

The rationale for Article 7 says that these changes encourage a more streamlined approach for the development, review and comment on the annual town budget.” That’s for sure. Eliminate budget preparation deadlines for capital improvements and departmental operating budget requests in the fall, eliminate the Warrant Committee’s in-depth review of the entire budget during February and March, and the Town Council could then tentatively adopt a budget and just two weeks later, hold a hearing, adopt the entire budget with or without changes and recommend it directly to Town Meeting – all in just one meeting!  

With everincreasing property taxes totaling $18,210,067 and FY21 budget expenditures now at $26,271,837, I say, “No thank you!”  I urge you to vote No on the ill-conceived new budget process in Article 7, vote No on Article 2 changes that eliminate Warrant Committee recommendations on the education budget and vote No on Article 8 changes to reduce the size of the Warrant Committee.  

We need to continue to invest time in thorough and thoughtful review of all aspects of our town budget, increase public participation in this process and preserve critical checks and balances of good government. 

 Jake Jagel is the former chairman of the Warrant Committee’s General Government Subcommittee. 

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