See update below in Blue
Stephen Robinson, newly hired School Committee attorney, issued a legal opinion to the Schools yesterday. Steve guided the School Committee through the Caruolo action in 2007. Mr. Robinson states that the Town Council has on one hand budget authority and on the other hand taxing authority; and, a referendum question providing more money to the schools is in the budget hand. So, were a referendum to succeed providing more money to the Schools, the Town Council would be obligated to provide those funds. The Council, in turn, would have three possible sources for the funding: cut the municipal budget, take from the reserve fund (as was done in 2006), or vote to exceed the Maximum Levy Cap (which we have the right to do based on loss of non-property revenue in FY2011). The Council would have to find the funds. Steve is very good at what he does, and he represents a number of other School Districts.
Our belief was that our "Tent Meeting" was a Financial Town Meeting with all the rights afforded that in the Maximum Tax Levy legislation. Our Charter allowed us to override the Council with a Financial Town Meeting, which than gave the residents the power to vote to exceed the "Cap". Than we changed the Charter. The intent of the Charter change was not to change that right, but to make that right more fair for all residents of Portsmouth; and, extending that right to a full day vote with absentee ballots et. al. So, if I were deployed in Iraq but wanted to vote, I would be afforded that right. Were I a nurse who needed to work that Saturday morning, I would have a vote. We will be seeking a legal opinion as to whether any of those rights have changed under a Referendum. Stay tuned...
Is it the "or" or the "also"?
Lets go back to the Maximum Levy paragraph (e): Any levy pursuant to subsection (d) of this section in excess of the percentage increase specified in subsection (a) or (b) of this section shall be approved by the affirmative vote of at least four-fifths (4/5) of the full membership of the governing body of the city or town or in the case of a city or town having a financial town meeting, the majority of the electors present and voting at the town financial meeting shall also approve the excess levy.
At first read, it would appear that the law affords either a Town Council vote to exceed or a majority of the electors to vote in the case of a Financial Town Meeting. Our argument hinges on the meaning of "also". Does the Bill require both? Our quest continues... stay tuned.
The referendum campaign is in full force. There are numerous benefits to the referendum, but we first need 1,500 signatures over 14 days beginning on July 27th. Remember Sign & Drive begins on Thursday July 29th and Friday, July 30th!