This letter is written in response to a letter by Mrs. Sylvia Shipton published in the 20 April 2010 issue of The Shirley Volunteer. In her letter, Mrs. Shipton states “It is the selectmen’s duty to present to the townspeople an annual budget within the guidelines of Proposition 2 1/2.”
But state law specifies that for Shirley it is the finance committee which is responsible for submitting a budget at the annual town meeting, not the selectmen. Chapter 39, section 16 of the Massachusetts General Laws, on finance committees, states, in part, “In every town having a committee appointed under authority of this section, such committee, or the selectmen if authorized by a by-law of the town, and, in any town not having such a committee, the selectmen, shall submit a budget at the annual town meeting.”
The finance committee has responsibility to prepare a budget for the entire town whereas the selectmen only have responsibility for the budgets of the departments under their authority. Once the finance committee budget is moved at the Annual Town Meeting, amendments may be proposed by the selectmen (as well as by any other voter at the meeting).
However, it seems appropriate that the selectmen ought to have significant input to the formation of the finance committee’s budget. To this end, many Massachusetts towns have formed “triboards”, a board composed of the selectmen, the finance committee, and the school committee (or representatives thereof) to agree upon a balanced budget to be submitted to the Annual Town Meeting. This is similar to what was done in Shirley for the 2009 Annual Town Meeting when the “budget committee” served as Shirley’s triboard. As a result, the budget at the 2009 Annual Town Meeting was quickly disposed of, with little contention, and the whole meeting was over in three nights. If there is no triboard-agreed balanced budget for the upcoming 2010 Annual Town Meeting, it is likely that there will be much contention and the meeting may run much longer (Seven nights for the 2008 Annual Town Meeting). I therefore recommend that the selectmen, the finance committee, and the school committee form a triboard to agree on a balanced budget for the 2010 Annual Town Meeting.
Shirley Town Moderator