Out-of-towners could get say in Groton affairs

Groton - A discussion by the Town Council on allowing nonresident taxpayers to vote at referendums has inspired talk about possibly revising the town charter.

Groton Town Mayor Heather Bond Somers asked fellow councilors last week for input on the idea of nonresident voting because of phone calls she received during the most recent road $11.2 million road repair referendum.

"We have (people) that are property owners, that maintain their properties, that are paying taxes to the town, and yet they are not allowed to vote in a referendum that affects the town," Somers said at last week's council meeting.

Nonresident taxpayers have been barred from voting at town referendums since 2009 based on an opinion from town attorney Michael Carey. It appears a language change during charter revisions in 2008 led to that opinion. A 2000 opinion on the same question, prior to charter changes, elicited the opposite response.

Somers said she wondered how fair the rule was considering there are others, such as Navy personnel, living in town with voting rights who do not pay taxes.

Other councilors wondered about the various implications of such a change. Councilor Karen Morton asked how the town would deal with people who own property who aren't full-time residents and rent the property to a qualified voter.

"I think that before I could support that it would have to be one property, one vote," she said.

Councilor Dean Antipas said it appears, based on state law, that even if the council wanted to make a change it would take a charter revision. Antipas, citing numbers gathered from previous referendums where non-resident taxpayers were allowed to vote, said a peak of 242 non-residents voted in 2002 during a vote on the Town Hall Annex. Nonresidents also were allowed to vote at referendums in 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2007.

The council plans to continue discussion on the matter and has asked Town Manager Mark Oefinger to explore what other possible changes might be needed to the charter before exploring the one issue.



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