The RTM Rules Committee and the Board of Finance this week discussed adapting the town’s budget process to have the RTM cede budget approval authority to the finance board, citing an order to do so by Gov. Ned Lamont.

The governor’s orders are meant to provide guidance to municipalities to be able to continue to conduct required business during the coronavirus pandemic while maintaining social distance and safety measures for residents and town officials.

However, one Representative Town Committee member has argued a newer order reaffirms the RTM’s authority, and is urging the RTM to vote against ceding it to the Board of Finance.

This week’s discussion

Darien’s budget process usually includes a discussion and approval of the budget on the town side by the Board of Selectmen, and the same on the schools side by the Board of Education. Both of these are usually done by February and the budgets are passed on to the Board of Finance for a review during March. That board usually approves by April and sets a tentative mill rate. The Board of Finance then passes both to the Representative Town Meeting for final approval in May.

Watch the Board of Finance meeting here on Darien TV 79.

Lamont issued two orders regarding municipal budgets. One gave the towns an additional 30 days to the deadline for approval. He also waived a rule — to ease the burden of passing municipal budgets — eliminating a requirement that the public vote to approve the annual budget in the roughly two-thirds of municipalities that do so.

Darien is one of a few towns in Connecticut that has its budget approved by an RTM. Other towns in Connecticut have a public referendum. Westport, Groton, Fairfield and Greenwich are among other towns that have an RTM.

First Selectman Jayme Stevenson said that because Darien’s budget and mill rate are set by a vote of the Representative Town Meeting, not a town-wide referendum, Darien’s process was a bit more complicated. She consulted with Town Counsel Wayne Fox.

The end result was that the RTM was set to virtually meet on April 27 for members to vote on whether to delegate the Board of Finance the authority to set the budget and the mill rate.

On Monday, the RTM’s Rules Committee met and discussed the budget process as well as set how to conduct its virtual April 27 meeting. The RTM’s individual committees will coordinate with the Board of Finance on the various aspects of the budget in a “buddy system” process.

Watch the RTM Rules Committee meeting on Darien TV 79 here.

Greenwich is proceeding with the RTM vote for its budget. Read more here.

Disagreement on process

On Thursday morning, RTM District 2 Vice Chairman Stacey Tié emailed members of the RTM saying she had researched First Selectman Jayme Stevenson’s and Town Counsel Wayne Fox’s interpretation of the executive order and cited her opposition.

Tié said she had researched the other towns in the state which have RTM’s and said only Darien had been asked to cede authority. Tié said she had reached out to the RTM moderators of Greenwich, Westport and Fairfield, which she said were continuing with the usual budget process.

She said she also reached out to Sen. Carlo Leone who is reaching out to the Govenors office for clarification. Tié cited a new executive order from Lamont, Order 7S, says “the legislative body of a municipality, or in a municipality where the legislative body is a town meeting other than a representative town meeting , the board of selectmen, and the budget-making authority of said municipality if different from the legislative body or board of selectmen, by majority vote of each such body, as applicable, may authorize.”

Read the full Executive Order 7S.

Tié also forwarded an email exchange she had with Greenwich RTM moderator Thomas Byrne in which he agreed with Tié ’s conclusion.

“I hope the Darien RTM will insist that, as the duly elected legislative body of Darien, it is the entity that will make the final decisions regarding budgetary matters. We must resist all attempts to undermine our democratic traditions,” Byrne said.

“Do not cede authority to the Board of Finance. Defend our democracy, charter and constitution. Vote No,” Tié concluded.

Response

Stevenson said clearly there was a difference in how the other towns were interpreting the governor’s executive order.

“We are researching and attempting to get clarity from the town counsel and the governor’s legal counsel,” Stevenson said.

Darien’s RTM Moderator Seth Morton, in response to the emails from Tié, sent an email to the full RTM saying he had asked Town Counsel Wayne Fox to “review his findings” and said Fox was contacting the governor’s office to discuss the issue.

“Ultimately, it is up to the RTM to decide, but I want to make sure all the arguments are on the table,” Morton said.

The RTM is currently scheduled to vote an granting the authority to approve the budget and set the mill rate at a virtual meeting on April 27.