Commission lines up possible changes in its crosshairs

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NAUGATUCK—After nearly two hours of discussion, the Charter Revision Commission set its sight on a few major potential changes to pursue, with a switch to an automatic budget referendum dominating much of the talk.

“In all reality Naugatuck is not a town, it’s a corporation,” said commission member David Cronin, during the commission’s Feb. 24 meeting.

Cronin, who felt the budget should go to an automatic referendum, said the people of Naugatuck are the “shareholders” and should have a say in how the “corporation” is run.

Currently, to force a referendum on the budget, residents need to get a petition signed by at least 8 percent of borough voters. If the budget fails twice at referendum, it must be cut by $1, according to the Town Charter.

Cronin said if the budget goes to automatic referendum he would like to see a set number in referendums in place, like five, with public hearings held after a failed referendum. If they all failed, he suggested, the budget would have to be cut by a predetermined percentage set in the Charter. Cronin felt this way the public could be more involved in the process.

While Cronin strongly backed the idea of an automatic referendum on the budget, others on the commission weren’t so supportive of the idea.

“I’m still not sure whether we should have one at all,” commission Secretary Lenny Caine said.

Caine said the current referendum process in the Charter was established because of a “knee-jerk reaction” following the state’s implementation of an income tax

“I’m not saying it’s bad. That’s how it developed,” Caine said.

Other commission members felt local officials are elected to lead and be informed, and the current process is already widely open to the public.

“We elect people to make decisions and be informed,” commission member Chris Herb said.

Herb added often times those voting on the referendum aren’t fully informed on the budget and the process.

Commission member Dorothy Hoff, who is a former burgess and member of the Board of Finance, said the budget process in place allows for ample opportunity for the public to be heard.

“I think the process repeatedly, as it is, allows for a referendum for the public,” Hoff said.

Although there wasn’t a consensus among the commission on the issue of an automatic referendum, the commission agreed to further explore the idea.

The commission also agreed to pursue looking at switching Naugatuck to a town manager form a government.

Commission member Brian Gregorio said a town manager would ensure the town had a trained professional running it and would take politics out of the picture. He added a town manager wouldn’t be worried about reelection.

“I think the benefit speaks for itself,” Gregorio said.

Aside from an automatic referendum and a town manager style of government, the commission will also explore changing the date of local elections from May to November and extending the mayor’s term from two years to four years.

Three subcommittees of the commission were formed, with each one responsible for researching a separate issue—an automatic referendum, town manager style of government and moving the elections and extending the mayor’s term, which was coupled into one issue.

“These are the three things … that are important to the town that have real value to the town,” commission Chair Andrew Bottinick said.

The commission is scheduled to meet again on March 31 when each subcommittee is expected to report back its findings.