Old horse of a charter needs update

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David Cronin discusses possible changes to Naguatuck's charter on Friday at the Town Hall.

NAUGATUCK — The borough’s current charter, originally written in 1893, allows the mayor and burgesses to prevent horse racing in the streets and other activities that would frighten horses.

Whoa!

Though the mode of transportation has changed over the past 117 years, the town charter still contains much of its original language, with only small revisions over the years, most recently in 1990.

“It’s written as if we’re still in the 1700s,” Burgess Mike Ciacciarella said.

The Charter Review Potential Issues Subcommittee met Monday to solicit public input on changes to the outdated charter.

“The charter is so old, it’s not funny,” Burgess Bob Neth said before the meeting. He said some of its provisions need to be changed or removed altogether.

Burgess Bob Neth listens to public input about possible changes to Naugatuck's charter on Friday at the Town Hall.

The charter is like Naugatuck’s constitution, Neth said. It sets all the rules and regulations for the borough, including how the government is run.

Other outdated provisions of the charter include giving the mayor and burgesses the power to prevent carriages and sleighs from blocking streets; to regulate the use of lanterns in stables; and to license the running of carts, with fees not to exceed $1.

Four members of the public attended the meeting. The burgesses also received a few e-mails with suggestions for the charter’s revision.

Resident David Cronin suggested there should be an automatic referendum for the budget.

“It is the people’s money and I think they should have a right to say how to spend it,” Cronin said.

Pete Perugini agreed.

“We should have a right to decide how much gets spent,” he said.

He said if Naugatuck lowers its taxes, business will improve. He advocated for a plan to cut the mill rate, which determines how much residents pay in taxes, over the next few years.

Ciacciarella said despite voters’ concerns about over-spending, there aren’t many areas to trim the fat.

“There’s very little of the budget we can actually affect,” Ciacciarella said.

Neth brought up Naugatuck’s election cycle. Currently, elections are held in May, coinciding with the passing of the budget. This means a new board has to enact the previous board’s budget. With the elections so close to the budget vote, politics plays a big role in budget decisions, Neth said.

Changing the elections from May to November has been talked about, but never acted upon, Neth said.

He also suggested changing the term limits for mayor, and possibly burgesses, from two to four years.

“Two years is not enough time to get anything done,” Neth said.

The first year is spent learning the job and the second year is spent campaigning for the next election, he said.

Pat Wagner, chairman of the Parks and Recreation Department, said he was concerned about rumors the town would combine his department with the streets and golf commissions. He also suggested adding language to the section about parks and recreation in the charter.

“It’s so vague but it’s so open,” Wagner said.

The subcommittee will take the public’s input to the Board of Mayor and Burgesses, who will discuss the issues and appoint a charter revision committee to make the necessary changes to the charter’s language.

The public will have a chance to vote on any potential revisions to the charter in a May referendum, if everything goes according to plan, Neth said.

“We are the exploratory committee,” Neth said.

There will be more public forums before anything is actually changed, he added.