What to know ahead of town, school meetings

The Keene Sentinel

Published: 02-04-2023 6:48 PM

What is a warrant?

The warrant is a list of items, known as “articles,” to be voted on at a town or school district meeting. In a traditional meeting, voters can discuss and amend these warrant articles before voting on them during the annual meeting. In an SB2 town or district, voters can discuss and amend warrant articles at the deliberative session, but the final vote on the articles is only at the polls in March.

What are some differences between SB2 and ’traditional’ meetings?

Most significantly, voters in SB2 towns and school districts do not sit down together at an annual meeting to discuss, amend and vote on warrant articles, as voters in traditional-meeting communities do.

The only chance SB2 voters have to talk about and make changes to articles is during a deliberative session, which is not held in traditional-meeting communities. Voters at this session decide the final wording of the warrant articles to send on to the March elections at the polls.

What if I live in a city like Concord or Franklin?

Cities are governed by a voter-elected City Council, which makes decisions on the budget and other governing issues.

What is the deliberative session in SB2 towns and districts?

Also known as the “first session,” it’s the chance for voters to ask questions, debate or make changes to articles on the warrant before the voting in March. At the deliberative session, the warrant is finalized by voters and sent on to the “second session,” which is the March elections.

What is a ‘default budget’ in SB2 towns and districts?

The default budget is what takes effect if voters reject the budget proposal on the warrant. Generally, the default budget is calculated by taking the previous year’s budget, including debt service, contracts and other obligations, and subtracting that year’s one-time expenses. While there are state guidelines for calculating this budget, some gray areas remain. Voters can discuss and question the default budget, but they cannot make any changes to it at the deliberative session.

The school district or town can also decide to hold a special meeting to vote on a revised budget if the proposal on the warrant is rejected, though this is less common.

Traditional towns and school districts don’t have a default budget, because the budget article is discussed and approved during the sit-down meeting.

Who can put articles on the warrant?

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Generally, school boards and select boards can put articles on the warrants in their school districts and towns.

If a community has an official budget committee, that committee is responsible for putting together the budget warrant article and its recommendations on other warrant articles that spend money.

Residents can also put articles on the warrant; these are known as “petition articles.” These articles have to be submitted in advance and signed by 25 or more registered voters or 2% of the town’s registered voters, whichever is less.

What is an amendment at the deliberative session or traditional town meeting?

An amendment is a change to a warrant article made by registered voters at the meeting. Most amendments require a simple majority of the voters at the meeting to pass. Voters must still vote on the overall article, either to pass the wording on to the final ballot (at a deliberative session) or for the final vote (in traditional meetings).

The threshold for the overall article to pass can vary based on the topic. For example, bond issues require a supermajority of three-fifths, or 60%, to pass.

Are there amendments that voters can’t make?

Yes. One of the most important restrictions is that voters can’t change the subject matter of a warrant article. For example, if a voter wanted to change an article about buying a police cruiser to instead buy a fire truck, that wouldn’t be allowed. Everything on the warrant has to be posted publicly before the meeting, so voters know the topics that will come up during the meeting.

Among the other articles voters can’t change are collective bargaining agreements, such as teachers’ contracts, or zoning amendments. In SB2 towns, voters cannot change the default budget.

When do I vote on zoning amendments and town offices?

Zoning amendments and town offices must be voted on by ballot, even in traditional meeting towns.

What is the “10% rule”?

The 10% rule applies to towns and school districts that have an official budget committee. In those communities, voters can increase the total amount of money the community appropriates by only 10% above what the budget committee recommends (this doesn’t include money for “fixed charges” including bonds or notes).

If a voter adds money to the budget for a specific program or staff member, does that guarantee the money will go there?

No. The school board, for school districts, and the select board, for towns, are in charge of spending money. It’s up to the members of these boards — who are elected by voters — whether money gets put toward what voters advocated for or not.

Additional sources

revenue.nh.gov/mun-prop/municipal/documents/sb2-tech-assistance.pdf

nhmunicipal.org/town-city-article/amendments-warrant-articles-guidance-town-meeting

nhmunicipal.org/town-city-article/16-things-every-citizen-should-know-about-town-meeting

RSA sections 32, 39, 40

revenue.nh.gov/mun-prop/municipal/sb2-assistance.htm

nhmunicipal.org/town-city-article/municipal-budget-committee-roles-and-responsibilities

nhmunicipal.org/town-city-article/legal-qa-be-aware-traps-town-meeting

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