How is SB2 changing your town?
By: Bob Cassasa (with subsequent updates by LFDA editors)
Adopted in 1995, pursuant to RSA 40:13 any town, school district or cooperative school district that raises and appropriates funds at an annual meeting can adopt a process whereby all warrant articles are given their final vote by official ballot.
If this approach is adopted, the annual town meeting will consist of two sessions:
At the first session – the deliberative session - (often held in late January/early February) participants have the opportunity to discuss debate and possibly amend the articles on the warrant. The purpose of the first session is to determine the wording of the articles, the final form of ballot questions. While the wording of some warrant articles is prescribed by law and may not be amended (e.g. zoning articles) the general rule is that all other warrant articles are subject to amendment. For example, an appropriation article could be amended down from $250,000.00 to $0. The New Hampshire Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that deleting all language from a warrant article except the words “To see…” was permissible (Grant v. Barrington 156 NH 807 (2008)).
Typically held the second Tuesday in March, the second session consists of the election of town/school officers (Selectmen, School Board) and final action on all articles as they emerged from the deliberative session. The voting is conducted by written ballot without further discussion, debate or amendment. The voter has the power to say “yes” or “no” to what the first session did, but not to alter it.
The most significant vote at this session relates to the proposed town budget, which has been prepared by the town’s governing body and may or may not have been amended at the first session. The voters must choose between this proposed budget and a “default” budget which is determined by a formula and is automatically enacted if the proposed budget fails to receive a majority vote.
The “default budget” is defined by RSA 40: 13 IX (b), as follows: Default budget as used in this subdivision means the amount of the same appropriations as contained in the operating budget authorized for the previous year, reduced and increased, as the case may be, by debt service, contracts, and other obligations previously incurred or mandated by law, and reduced by one-time expenditures contained in the operating budget. For the purposes of this paragraph, one-time expenditures shall be appropriations not likely to recur in the succeeding budget, as determined by the governing body, unless the provisions of RSA 40:14-b are adopted, of the local political subdivision.”
NH Towns Still Split On SB2:
A number of communities have repealed or tried to repeal SB2 since the time they adopted it. Here's a list from the state Department of Revenue Administration of towns that adopted SB2 and whether they've repealed it.
In 2011, citizens across NH went to vote on state budgeting, spending and SB2. In spite of efforts from some towns to rescind SB2, unofficial results indicate the effort gained little traction and a few more towns switched to the bill, including Lee and Northwood.
In Barrington and Rye, voters defeated efforts to return to traditional meeting, in which warrant articles are deliberated and voted up or down at one session.
Joe Mills, a Rye Selectman, who sought a return to the Town Meeting style of voting, said rescindment didn’t pass because people may see SB2 as an easier way to vote.
In Meredith, a majority vote 564 to 448 failed to adopt the bill because by law, a three-fifths vote is required.
It was a close race in Lee. David Cedarholm, a supporter of SB2 and founder of the Lee Citizens Alliance, said “the petition passed by just two dozen votes.” He expressed a sense of determination among residents to keep the feeling of a traditional Town Meeting and work to make the most of the deliberative session in the official ballot form of voting. In a statement last month he said, “Town Meeting should not require a survivor level of energy that requires participants to ‘outwit, outplay, and outlast’ in order to participate in the basic democratic process.
In Moultonborough, the SB2 article failed 456 to 696.
An article printed by the Union Leader stated, “a recent report by the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies, a non-partisan think-tank in Concord, found that 56 percent of students are now covered under SB2 districts."
Some attempts were launched to amend, or undercut, SB2 in the 2013 legislative session, chief among them HB 280, which sought to permit "towns and school districts that have adopted official ballot voting to make certain adaptations concerning the default budget and the amendment of petitioned warrant articles." The House killed that bill on Feb. 20. In addition, HB 460 would allow a town's default budget to be increased by no more than 10 percent at a ballot-law town's deliberative session. Currently, the budget, once approved by voters, cannot be amended. HB 460 was rejected unanimously by the House Municipal and County Government Committee and voted down in the full House.