HOPE — Members of the Hope Select Board debated Feb. 22 whether the budget should continue to be decided in an open town meeting or by secret ballot. Their discussion follows a trend in the area in which towns including Camden and Union are looking at changing from the traditional town meeting.

“I’m just not into making life so easy for everybody that they don’t have to do anything,” Vice Chair Richard Crabtree argued.

Chair Sarah Ann Smith said she favored changing to a budget vote by ballot because in recent years the 27 people who turn out to town meeting have been deciding things for the 1,300 registered voters. She said everyone ought to have equal say.

Crabtree said everyone does, but some make a decision not to put the effort into coming out to town meeting. He warned that making things so easy that people do not have to think could lead to an ignorant society.

He also argued the purpose is not to bring in the most votes but instead to have an informed electorate.

Fire Chief Clarence Keller commented during the conversation. He said he understood Crabtree’s feelings and even agreed to a certain extent, but said he would rather have the larger majority voting on his budget.

“In 245 years, people have been less and less interested,” Keller said. “The only thing we can do is raise the price of tea if we want people to come out to town meeting.”

He said he would have liked to have been there for the old town hall days with meetings on Saturdays, but “Those days are gone.”

Board member Bruce Haffner said town meeting is far superior, but he made the motion to put the question to voters.

Crabtree warned that if you ask the voters something you have to be prepared to do what they say.

Board member Mike Brown said he favored town meeting.

Fellow member Wendy Pelletier had suggested putting the question out to the voters. She questioned at one point in the discussion whether they could wait and see how it worked in other towns that are considering such changes first.

Crabtree asked how residents could amend the budget without a town meeting format. Smith said, “They don’t.”

Crabtree said then it would be an up-or-down vote.

She said the issues could be discussed before the election in a public hearing, to which Crabtree argued no one attends public hearings.

The common wisdom is that town meetings draw a larger turnout because people know they can vote on the issues, and public hearings do not have the same appeal.

“Nowhere outside of New England can voters nickel-and-dime line items in the budget this way,” Smith said.

The board voted 5-0 to the concept of putting the non-binding question on the ballot, but will vote again on the specific wording.

Crabtree quipped after the vote, saying, “I’m working on the wording already. How many of you would like to agree with all the out-of-staters that have moved into town?” This drew general laughter in the meeting.

In other business, Haffner made a pitch to the board that the town should buy a plow truck to handle plowing for the two fire stations, the town office and the school. He argued in the long run the town could save money doing the work itself rather than contracting it out. He offered various figures and estimates in making his case.

Smith was concerned that the savings were not as much as he might think and that all of the various costs involved might not be included. Issues could include what if the truck broke down or wore out sooner than expected, would the town need a garage for this, would it create more work for town office staff, and what would be the costs in terms of salary and benefits for drivers.

“I would have to be really convinced and I am not really convinced,” Crabtree said.

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