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No Hartford Revote on March 29

Hartford — Despite a desire by a majority of the School Board to revisit a defeated proposal for a $3 million supplemental recreation bond, there will not be a revote at the town’s annual floor meeting on March 29.

There are not enough days left before the meeting to properly warn the revote, or reconsideration, as required by law.

“There is no way they can have a bond revote on March 29,” Town Clerk Beth Hill, who doubles as the presiding elections officer for the town and school district, said in an interview on Thursday.

When the School Board met earlier this week, members discussed how to respond after the defeat, 931 to 675, of the supplemental bond proposal during balloting on March 4. Without the $3 million, the school district is well short of the money it needs to complete planned upgrades to the track and field at Hartford High and build a new field house on the campus.

Those projects were to have been paid for with a $9 million bond that voters approved last year, but another project tied to the bond came in well over budget, leaving a shortfall for the athletic facility upgrades.

At Monday’s meeting the board put off a decision on how to spend the money — about $1.5 million — that is already available for the track and field and field house. The vote was 4 to 1, with the majority hoping the delay would allow the bond proposal to be brought back for another vote via a citizen-led petition.

That could still happen, but not as quickly as the School Board might have hoped.

In order to petition for a revote, Hill said, 5 percent of registered voters, or 443 people, would need to sign a petition calling for a special town meeting, which would take place about six to eight weeks after the petition is submitted. That time-frame allows the special meeting to be properly warned, which entails advertising the meeting a minimum of 30 days in advance and holding two public hearings on the item, Hill said.

In order for the School Board to hold a revote without relying on a petition, Hill said, the board would need to schedule a special meeting and follow the same process to properly warn it.

Regardless, any revote would be done by Australian ballot.

Paul Giuliani, the bond counsel for the town and school district, reinforced that there is “no way” a petition could be filed for a revote to take place on March 29.

“They can’t draft a petition to do anything (at this point and time) on March 29,” Giuliani said in an interview on Thursday.

If a voter-led petition to bring up a bond for a revote at a later date is circulated, Giuliani said, the wording on the petition is important. The petition must specify a “reconsideration,” meaning the exact language used on the March 4 ballot would be used again, or a “new item,” meaning the voters would need to outline the new bond vote specifications.

Similarly, the School Board could pursue a reconsideration or make a new proposal.

“You just can’t use a reconsideration to advance plan B,” Giuliani said.

The same bond language can only be voted on twice in a calendar year, meaning supporters only have one more stab at passing the $3 million bond for athletic field and field house until next February.

Calls to School Board Chairman Kevin Christie and board members Lori Dickerson, Peter Merrill and Eric Michaels weren’t returned on Thursday.

Board member Paul Keane said that Monday marked his first meeting and he was too new to comment on the subject.

Keane cast the lone vote on Monday against putting off the decision on how to spend the $1.5 million.

Emails to Superintendent Tom DeBalsi about the matter also were not returned.

The primary purpose of the floor meeting portion of Hartford’s Town Meeting is to hold a revote in the event either the town or school budgets failed during ballot voting on Town Meeting Day.

However, both town and school budgets were approved on March 4, so this year’s floor meeting at 10 a.m. on March 29 at Hartford High is expected to focus on allocations under $1,000, a pay scale for elected officials and a question-and-answer forum with municipal officials.

Hill said while the School Board could discuss how to spend the $1.5 million at the March 29 meeting under “other business,” no definitive vote could be taken because the item wasn’t properly warned.

“I don’t think it would be a binding vote,” Hill said.

Christie said earlier this week that if the board was unable to act on March 29, a decision on the $1.5 million likely would be made at the board’s regular meeting on April 9.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.