Resident Marc Flattes is hoping to see a change in Derry’s government, with the ultimate goal of lowering taxes.
Flattes has asked the Town Council to look into the possibility of changing the charter from a town to a city, and bringing the Derry Cooperative School District under Town control.
The two administrations are currently separate, with the School District run by the School Board under the SB2 form of government and the town run by the Town Council under a council form of government. The entire town can vote on the school budget on the ballot in March, after a deliberative session in February. With the Council form of government the Council develops the budget and receives public input, but the ultimate vote is that of the Council.
New Hampshire Deputy Secretary of State David Scanlon said in a phone interview that any change in the form of government requires a vote of the town according to RSA 49:C-1. This state law implements Article 39 of the New Hampshire Constitution, which enables municipalities to draft their own charters without action of the General Court.
The issue is in the voters’ hands, Scanlon said, noting, “There is no law on changing the charter or forming a government, except by a voters’ referendum.
The RSA allows towns to adopt or amend a charter, as long as it is not in conflict with the general law of the state.
“The role of the state is simply to review their proposals,” Scanlon said.
If the town wanted to take control of the school district, that would be spelled out in the charter change, Scanlon said. A change in the charter would require a vote of the people.
Scanlon said he isn’t aware of any towns choosing to become cities in the last decade or so. There have been instances of towns and cities revising their charters, he said.
The difference between a town and a city is the representative form of government, in which the City Council makes decisions representing the people. The city is broken down into voting districts or “wards,” he said.
The idea resonates with Council Chairman Tom Cardon, who campaigned on a platform of lowering taxes. “It’s a great idea,” he said. “I think the schools have an inability to control their budget, and it’s gone too far.”
Putting the School District under Council supervision, whether in his administration or a future one, would get the budget under control, Cardon said. But, he added, “The reason no one is doing it is because it’s a long, drawn-out process.”
Ken Linehan, a School Board member and last year’s vice-chair, isn’t sure that changing to a city won’t add another layer of government, one Derry doesn’t need.
“I think the bigger it gets, the worse it gets in regards to transparency,” Linehan said in a phone interview last week. The School District is run by the Official Ballot Law or SB2, a system Linehan said is actually more efficient in helping voters have their say.
“The district members vote on the budget, they vote on the School Board members. You get your say,” Linehan pointed out. “Some people aren’t happy with the result, but it’s the majority who make the decision. There’s more transparency, and more control by the voters.”
Linehan added, “I’m not sure why someone would want to make Derry a larger, more centralized government.”