Executive Order Empowers Board of Finance
Bethel First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker has confirmed that the Board of Selectmen will ask the Board of Finance to adopt a budget for 2020-2021 without a Town Meeting or Referendum vote.
While Boards of Selectmen in Brookfield, New Milford and Vernon and Easton First Selectman Bindelglass are working to find ways to hold virtual or drive-through budget votes, or to simply wait to adopt a budget until the COVID-19 crisis subsides, Bethel's First Selectman appears set on bypassing the public vote, instead insisting on a non-binding virtual hearing were the public can provide input, but not vote, via email or phone call.
"The governor's order was very clear that even though we're not going to be permitted to have a town meeting, which is our normal procedure, there still must be transparency and there still must be ample ways for the public to weigh in on the budget and give feedback," Knickerbocker said.
Bethel Action Committee founder Billy Michael said "This is what a dictatorship looks like. It makes me sick," he continued, "and it's an opportunity to increase spending, free of the control of the people that pay those taxes."
"Transparency seems to have gone out the Town Hall window," said Board of Finance member Cynthia McCorkindale. "Why aren't they working to empower our voters?"
The budget process outlined in Governor Lamont's order on March 21st includes The Board of Selectmen authorizing the Board of Finance to hold a virtual public meeting to get public input and then to meet and adopt a budget and set the new 2021 mill rate.
Many are confused about the speed at which Mr. Knickerbocker is moving, citing the Governor's extension until June 30th for a budget to be adopted and the reserves available to the Town to draw on should funds to deal with the COVID crisis be needed.
"There is plenty of time," Michael said. "This may subside. It's the mad rush to deny freedom."