NAUGATUCK — A dozen members of the three boards that determine the borough’s budget did not vote in Tuesday’s referendum, which was invalidated for lack of voter turnout.
The Board of Mayor and Burgesses, Board of Education and Board of Finance have 27 members combined, meaning 44 percent of those elected officials did not vote.
Although an overwhelming majority of the voters who cast ballots on Tuesday rejected the $110.9 million budget, the results were not valid because only 13.7 percent of registered voters turned out. Borough charter requires a 15 percent turnout for the results to have an effect.
“I felt an obligation to vote based on the office that I currently hold,” said Mayor Robert Mezzo, who voted in favor of the $51.5 million municipal budget and the $59.4 million school system budget. “I think the right to vote or not to vote is something sacred to this country. We don’t have forced voting like you do in some totalitarian regimes.”
David Heller, school board chairman, said he and others exercised their right not to vote Tuesday so the referendum would fail based on turnout. To reach the 15 percent threshold, 236 more voters were needed. Even if all 236 had supported the budget, they would have been no match for the 2,000 others who opposed it.
“I expressed my desire for the budget to be approved by not voting,” Heller said.
Heller said if there were no 15 percent threshold, he would have voted to keep the budget the same.
“I’m putting it down entirely to support of the budget,” Heller said of the low turnout. “The only group that made an effort to get out the vote was the ‘no’ vote, and that’s traditionally how it works.”
Diane Scinto, chairwoman of the finance board, also stayed home in hopes the budget would pass, but even without the 15 percent rule she said she would refuse to vote as a personal protest against the referendum process. Scinto said she believes budget referendums allow a small percentage of voters to possibly overthrow a spending plan that officials have spent months crafting.
The referendum failed despite being well publicized this year, Scinto said.
“I absolutely think it’s a support of the budget because if people were so opposed to it, then they would be out in opposition to the budget,” she said.
The registrars’ records show Burgesses Robert Burns, Mike Ciacciarella and Patrick Scully did not vote in the referendum. Aside from Heller, school board members Rocky Vitale, James E. Jordan, James Scully and Scott Slauson also stayed home. Besides Scinto, finance board members Jack Tavares, Anthony Campbell and Julie Branco Sampaio did not vote.
A proposed charter revision on the ballot last November would have decreased the number of voters needed to petition for subsequent referendums if the budget is voted down on the first try. That amendment did not pass.