Residents’ survey shifts Naples town meeting to April

By Dawn De Busk

Staff Writer

NAPLES — A straw poll offered to residents during the November Election has led the Town of Naples to switch its annual meeting to April.

The results of the straw poll showed a greater preference for town meeting in April than in May or June.

Slightly more than 200 people answered the straw poll questions. The results for which month to have town meeting were: 102 for April; 71 for May; and 39 for June. However, there was a close margin when it came to favoring a Saturday (111 people) versus a weekday (101 people).

Naples’ Annual Town Meeting 2019 will be held on a weekday in late April.

Town Meeting has been held in June for about 20 years. Last year, the June town meeting was held on a Saturday instead of Wednesday, which was when it typically had been held. Afterwards, town staff discovered that attendance was about the same.

The change was brought about after a resident recommended that Saturday was a better time for town meetings. Residents opinions factored into the decision to do a straw poll.

“Many people complained about holding town meeting later in the year because late spring/early summer schedules get busy for families,” Naples Town Manager John Hawley said. “Town meeting attendance can be weather-driven as well. A nice summer day in June and folks do not want to spend half a day in a town meeting.”

An April town meeting “also gives the town a head start on bidding summer work or projects because the budget would be approved earlier in the year. Currently, bid approvals have to be contingent on town meeting funding which can sometimes be a scheduling headache with contractors who may not want to commit to a schedule not knowing if the funding will be approved.”

The straw poll results were revealed during the Naples Board of Selectmen meeting on Monday.

The audience in attendance, some of whom sit on the Budget Finance Committee, said they liked the idea of the earlier town meeting and estimated the budget would be completed in time for that date.

“One of the challenges in Naples is that town meeting is not locked in from year to year and is subject to [board of selectmen] approval. They have made every effort to schedule the meeting when they feel that most people would be willing to be in attendance and with all of the combinations of day-of-the-week or time-of-year that have been tried, there has not been any one that has produced the best attendance,” Hawley said.

“All communities will tell you that public participation had drastically diminished over the past several decades and the civic duty attitude is not as prevalent as it once was,” he said.

“It’s unfortunate as the town meeting is the purest form of democracy and, in this day where there is so much distrust in government, you would think people would want to be more involved.”

Essentially, the April town meeting will be tested out to see if it works better for townspeople.

“The date and time of the town meeting will be reevaluated if this adjustment proves to show a greater lack of attendance,” Hawley said.

The town manager briefly discussed the advantages and disadvantages of various dates.

“There really isn’t any disadvantage to holding the town meeting in April with the exception that maybe the school district budget estimates may not be ready. But that is unlikely as they would need to have their numbers ready for the school budget vote in May,” Hawley said.

“I’m not sure there are any advantages to holding a meeting in June except that we might avoid a late spring snowstorm,” he said.

How about Snow Birds who participate in the annual town meeting?

“The Naples population swarms from Memorial Day to Labor Day but historically, attendance at early summer town meetings have not been that different from meetings held earlier than that period in a year,” he said.

“Snow Birds, who live in Naples for the duration of the year that permits them to be registered voters in Naples, are generally back by the end of April,” Hawley said.

Historically, is there a preferred date for municipalities in Maine?

“Each community is different from the next; and town meetings in Maine start in February and go until June,” Hawley said.

“It also depends on if the community is on a calendar year or a fiscal year. I do know that Poland has their town meeting on the first Saturday in April,” he said.

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