WALDOBORO, Maine — Town officials are expressing relief over a ruling by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court that leaves the power of how budgets should be voted on by the public to the Select Board.
The justices ruled Thursday that state law leaves to the selectmen discretion whether the budget articles should be decided on by referendum or at a town meeting. The justices noted that the only way to change that would be for the town to adopt a town charter that grants the authority to the public.
Nine residents filed a lawsuit against the town last year after selectmen decided to hold a town meeting in July 2011 to act on budget articles rejected at a June referendum. Residents had voted in June 2008 to have budget articles acted on by referendum.
The residents filed the lawsuit to repeal the action taken at the town meeting, arguing that voters had said they wanted it done at the polls, where more people would have a say.
“I’m disappointed,” said Dennis Blanchet, who was one of the nine people to challenge selectmen. “I was hoping we would win the suit and people would not have to continue to pay exorbitant taxes.”
Town officials, however, expressed relief.
“It was a real relief for me,” said Town Manager John Spear. “Although I was not surprised; the law was clear.”
Spear said his concern was that if the court had ruled the town had acted improperly he was unsure what the penalty would have been to correct a budget already approved and put into effect.
Selectman Steve Cartwright said he also was pleased with the ruling.
“I prefer open town meetings where the citizens can get together and thrash out the issues,” Cartwright said.
The lawsuit has cost the town $4,517 in legal fees as well as a lot of staff time, Spear said. Superior Court Justice Jeffrey Hjelm had ruled in favor of the town but the residents appealed that decision to the state’s high court.
The Select Board has scheduled a referendum for Sept. 11 to act on some articles that were rejected at the polls in June. Cartwright said that decision was made before the court ruling was issued.
Blanchet said he has no plans to work to change the town’s charter, saying that the officials in power would design the charter in a way to have things run the way they want.