Basic Roles of Town Meeting

WHAT ARE THE BASIC ROLES AND RESPONSIBILITIES OF TOWN MEETING RELATIVE TO MUNICIPAL FINANCE? Town meeting is the legislative body and appropriating authority of a town. As the legislative body, town meeting enacts by- laws and other measures to provide for the operation of municipal government and the administration of town affairs. For example, town meeting typically enacts personnel, zoning and building code by-laws and establishes various town select committees. As the appropriating authority, town meeting also approves the annual budget and by approval of appropriations authorizes specific expenditures. With the exception of the school operating budget, town meeting may vote a budget on a line-item basis, in which case each separate line item constitutes a separate appropriation. Alternatively, town meeting may vote appropriations more generally and thereby afford department heads a measure of flexibility in expending funds to operate their departments. The budgets adopted by town meetings in Massachusetts are affected by the Proposition 21⁄2 limitations upon local property tax levies. So-called overrides of these tax limitations, which allow for additional taxing capacity to fund the budget, may only be approved by a general referendum vote of all town residents. The initial town budget is approved at annual town meeting prior to the July 1 commencement of the fiscal year. During the course of the fiscal year, special town meetings may be convened to refine the budget, transfer funds or address other municipal business. Town meetings are generally referred to as open town meetings if all residents may participate and vote on matters being considered by the meeting. Town meeting must also approve the issuance of debt. A two-thirds vote of the meeting is required for this purpose. Approval of town meeting is also necessary to establish a stabilization fund and appropriate monies into it. Likewise, a two-thirds vote of town meeting is required to make appropriations from the stabilization fund. Town meeting may also enact additional by-laws concerning the financial management and organization of the town. As the legislative body, town meeting ratifies major policies concerning the financial management of the municipality.