The following is some additional guidance on the effect and implementation of the recent Executive Orders pertaining to municipal and regional board of education budget adoption, in particular, Executive Orders 7B, 7C and 7I, as supplemented by additional guidance issued by the Office of the Governor.
Municipal Budget Adoption Procedures
Section 13 of Executive Order 7I relieves municipalities of the obligation of complying with any in-person voting requirements (including referenda and any town meetings requiring in-person votes) for purposes of adopting 2020-2021 fiscal year municipal budgets and setting the mill rates. The legislative body of the municipality – or the Board of Selectmen if the town meeting is the legislative body – is ordered to authorize the “budget-making authority” of the municipality to adopt a budget and set a mill rate.
Remote public budget meetings and hearings (by conference call, videoconference or other technology) must still proceed in a manner as closely consistent with town charters or other applicable special acts, municipal ordinances, resolutions and procedures as possible, and in compliance with the open meeting provisions in Section 1 of Executive Order 7B. The budget-making authority must make reasonable efforts to reach out to the public, including providing draft budgets, and receiving comments.
For guidance on identifying which board, agency or body constitutes a municipality’s “budget making authority,” please refer to (1) any applicable special act; (2) your local charter; (3) Title 7; or (4) local ordinances in communities without charters. In general, in non-charter towns the “budget making authority” is the Board of Finance if there is one, or the Board of Selectmen if there is not.
Keep in mind that last week’s Executive Order 7C also extended all deadlines for budget adoption that fall on or before May 15, 2020. The second part of Section 5 of that Executive Order authorizes the legislative body of the municipality – or the Board of Selectmen if the town meeting is the legislative body – to modify or amend the budget preparation and adoption calendar to reflect the potential extensions of the original dates on or before which any required action would have been taken. Under the current Executive Order, any such modifications or amendments would be constrained by the maximum extension period of thirty (30) days. The intent of that order was to give municipalities flexibility and allow them to meet, extend, or adjust all the preliminary deadlines that lead to a budget adoption vote or meeting. That order, and its deadline extensions, are still in effect, so municipalities have some flexibility in deciding whether to act now or to wait at least some time on their budget adoption process until the situation becomes clearer.
Meanwhile, any budget action that requires an in-person vote of residents or taxpayers is replaced by the provisions of Executive Order 7I. That order however, applies only to in-person votes of residents or taxpayers, whether at a referendum or town meeting – it doesn’t relieve the relevant municipal legislative body or budget-making authority from the obligations to vote, record its vote, and follow Freedom of Information laws as amended by Executive Order 7B. Municipalities should still use those provisions to hold any budget presentation meetings or other proceedings required by law.
Finally, bear in mind that Executive Orders 7C and 7I do not alter or modify the control of line-items that fall squarely within the authority of Boards of Education within a single municipality. The budget-making authority will have the ability to adjust the “bottom line” of the education budget, but not the individual accounts, as is the case under current law.
Boards of Education should also still comply with all requirements pertaining to budget deadlines adopted by the municipality in compliance with the open meeting provisions in Section 1 of Executive Order 7B.
Regional School Budgets
Section 14 of Executive Order 7I establishes a parallel process for the adoption of budgets by regional boards of education. Regional boards of education should consult with the budget-making authority in each of its member towns and ensure it has received and given due consideration to their input.
Regional boards of education should also still comply with all requirements pertaining to budget deadlines adopted by the district in compliance with the open meeting provisions in Section 1 of Executive Order 7B.
Section 6 of Executive Order 7C establishes a thirty (30) day extension period for any budget preparation or submission deadlines prior to May 15, 2020 that apply to regional school districts. Unlike towns, which may or may not have specific dates that govern the budget process, the budget adoption calendar for regional school districts is governed by state statutes which call for a public budget meeting in late April and the annual budget meeting to be held on the first Monday or Tuesday in May.
Issues to be Addressed in the Future
There are many other topics that will need to be examined and prioritized in the coming days. Some of them may be reflected in future executive orders and others may not. Among the issues that have been raised for discussion are:
There will be more issues to consider as we all go forward through the coming weeks. In the meantime, please feel free to reach out to any one of our municipal attorneys with any questions or concerns that you may have.