Charter commission nominations to be made by next Norwich City Council

Norwich - The City Council on Monday replaced a controversial resolution that contained the names of seven hand-picked nominees to a charter revision commission with a two-page resolution to allow the new City Council being sworn in next month to appoint members.

Republican Alderwoman Sofee Noblick submitted a new resolution that calls for a seven-member charter revision commission to be created with the mayor and each of the six council members nominating a member. The appointments are to be made within 30 days of Monday, bringing the decision to the Dec. 16 council meeting.

Noblick's resolution was approved unanimously, and the controversial resolution submitted by Mayor Peter Nystrom and Aldermen Mark Bettencourt and Charles Jaskiewicz was withdrawn without a vote. The three had met a week ago to propose a list of seven members - four Democrats and three Republicans - without consulting Mayor-Elect Deberey Hinchey and the other three aldermen.

The new resolution also spelled out several issues the council wants the new charter revision commission to study, including some controversial items that have been discussed without action for decades.

One of those is "adopting a single mill rate for the entire city." Currently, the center city is served by a paid fire department, and property owners there pay a higher tax rate to cover the costs. Property owners in the five outlying volunteer fire districts pay only a small amount to cover volunteer firefighter pensions, while some costs of all the departments are funneled through the general budget.

The council also asked the new commission to consider four-year staggered terms for council members with a limit of two terms. While the mayor currently has a four-year term, aldermen are elected for two years with a small stipend of $100 per month also stipulated in the charter. That could change as well, as the new charter commission will be asked to consider changes to council salaries by ordinance instead of charter change.

Another potentially controversial item is a suggestion that the commission propose increasing the amount the city can bond without needing a referendum. Currently, the council cannot bond for more than $800,000 without a referendum. Wording in the resolution calls for the commission to consider "raising council bonding threshold to a percent of the adopted city budget."

Projecting a schedule for charter review, the resolution anticipated that the charter commission report its recommendations no later than March 16, 2015, with referendum questions on each proposed charter amendment to be held at the November 2015 general election.

c.bessette@theday.com

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