CAMDEN — Voters may see a non-binding article on the November ballot asking whether additional review should be given to changing the annual vote on the municipal budget to a ballot vote at the polls.

This would be a change from the traditional town meeting format.

Charter Commission Chair Deb Dodge and Commission Vice Chair Lowrie Sargent recommended putting the question to the Select Board Aug. 24.

Select Board Vice Chair Alison McKellar debated the language of the non-binding article. She wants voters to be asked if they prefer a secret ballot or town meeting vote, not if they want additional review of the topic by a future Charter Commission.

Town Manager Audra Caler pointed out that voting on the budget by secret ballot for the past two years due to the Covid 19 pandemic has created the expectation that absentee voting should be allowed to continue.

Voting by secret ballot resulted in many more residents voting on the budget than in previous years. At an August public hearing on Charter revisions, a supporter of voting on the budget at town meeting cited the ability to discuss and make changes to the budget at the meeting, instead of just voting for or against budget items.

The Select Board did not make a decision on placing the non-binding article on the November ballot, or how it would be worded. Chair Bob Falciani said it would be discussed again.

Another major change to the Charter that was discussed by the Commission did not make it into the final version voters will see. This change was setting term limits for Select Board members.

The Commission also decided not to change Camden’s town meeting form of government, though members did research other forms of government, including city council, and discussed these with Town Attorney Bill Kelly.

The Charter serves as an operating manual for Camden’s municipal government, which gives town residents the authority to approve the annual municipal budget and any changes to ordinances.

The idea to update the entire 37-page Charter came from John French, in 2018. French, who served on the Select Board for 21 years, was concerned the Charter had not been comprehensively reviewed in the past 35 years.

A Charter Commission was formed and started its work on revising the Charter in 2019.

Dodge has explained that even though members brought a wealth of experience, they struggled at first on how to deal with a document that had not been updated for many decades.

Commission members have formerly served on the Select Board, Planning Board, Zoning Board of Appeals, Personnel Board and Comprehensive Plan committees. Early on, input was sought from the Select Board, town manager and citizens. The Commission worked closely with Kelly. They heard from the public, including Select Board members, at two public hearings in August.

The work involved research into charters of other Maine towns, reorganizing and editing the document to make it easier to find information, ensuring the Charter aligns with current state laws, elimination of obsolete sections and a lot of discussion about proposed changes, according to Dodge.

In other changes, if the new Charter is approved, Select Board members could be removed from their positions for unexcused absences. Forfeiture is based on the failure to attend three regular meetings in any six-month period without being excused. The Select Board chair can excuse an absence. Board members are required to submit a written request for approval of an excused absence.

A new proposal requires a public hearing be held to dissolve a town committee.

Another new section is added to ensure the Charter is reviewed every five years.

Three Select Board members are required for a quorum to hold a meeting and three affirmative votes are required to pass an item. The current Charter defines a quorum as three-fifths, which Commission members think is confusing if four members are present.

No changes were made to the Town Manager section of the Charter. Part of IV Administrative Organization, regarding personnel administration is deleted, as there is now a personnel policy and rules manual, which makes information in the Charter obsolete. The Personnel Board will be changed to a committee, appointed by and advisory to the Select Board. Article V, Wastewater Department, has been updated to codify the use of user fees to pay for capital improvements.

Budget Committee

A new proposal reduces the budget committee to 11 members, down from as many as 25. Camden is the only town the Commission has found with a budget committee of more than nine or so members, Dodge said.

The method for joining the budget committee will now be election at town meeting by secret ballot. To qualify for election to the committee, a resident would fill out a committee interest form.

A proposal to give the Select Board the ability to decide on emergency spending, without voter approval at a special town meeting, was not approved by the Commission, and is not part of the revision voters will see.