[This story has been updated.] The Town of West Hartford has announced changes to the upcoming public meeting and hearing format, but will be conducting meetings virtually and is taking another hard look at the budget.
By Ronni Newton
The Town of West Hartford is back at work on day-to-day business as well as the challenges of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, and Mayor Shari Cantor announced Tuesday that a virtual meeting plan is under development to allow meetings to take place and permit public input in Town Council actions, including the budget process.
Cantor said that while the Town Hall building remains closed, and the format will not be what residents are accustomed to, there will still be two public hearings to invite comment on the budget.
Town Manager Matt Hart presented the town’s FY2021 budget March 10, but Cantor said those numbers will be reviewed in light of the dramatic economic changes that have occurred in the past several weeks.
“The world has changed dramatically in a short period of time due to this global pandemic,” Cantor told We-Ha.com Tuesday. “We know that there are significant new challenges we face in the current budget year as well as concerns and unknowns for the 2021 budget year,” she said.
“We are re-looking at the budget with this new reality and with the understanding that there are many unknowns. We will work hard to create a budget that reflects the unpredictability and challenges that we currently face while trying our best to preserve West Hartford’s top ranked schools system, municipal services, and our quality of life,” Cantor said.
The town is also committed to keeping the public as involved as possible in the process.
One component of Executive Order 7I, issued March 21 by Gov. Ned Lamont, waived the long-standing requirement for municipalities to hold town meetings to adopt their budgets for FY2021, adding to relief granted in Executive Order 7B, issued March 14, that allowed the budget process for all municipalities in the state to be extended amid the coronavirus crisis.
“Public access and open government are core West Hartford values. As mayor, I remain committed to holding two public hearings to allow public testimony on the budget, as required by the Town Charter,” Cantor previously told We-Ha.com.
Although it is not required by the state for this budget process, Cantor said the town is committed to holding public hearings.
“The entire Town Council is committed to ensuring that all members of the public have the ability to be heard on the budget,” Cantor said in a statement Tuesday.
During the time the governor’s executive order is in effect, town governments are permitted to hold meetings remotely – utilizing conference calls, videoconferencing, or other technology.
“Without the Governor’s executive order, it would have been almost impossible to conduct public meetings without risking further spread of COVID-19,” Corporation Counsel Dallas Dodge said in a statement Tuesday. “The executive order is a commonsense measure that allows for towns to continue conducting business in a way that balances public access with health and safety.”
The exact format and process for the virtual meetings is being developed by town information technology staff, along with Dodge and Town Clerk Essie Labrot, to ensure it is in compliance with the governor’s executive order.
Cantor told We-Ha.com that the Board of Education and Town Council will be closely connected and working collaboratively throughout the budget process.
Several resolutions, which the Town Council had originally planned to consider this spring, have been postponed until further notice, including consideration of a zoning change for 12 Grove Street and a 9-month moratorium on certain types of development in transit-oriented districts.
The following meeting changes have been announced:
- March 31, Public Hearing (2020-21 Town Budget) – Postponed until further notice
- April 6, Public Hearing (Budget) – Postponed until further notice
- April 6, Public Hearing regarding 12 Grove Street – Postponed until further notice
- April 6, Town Council Meeting – In lieu of the Regular Meeting that is scheduled, a virtual Special Meeting is tentatively planned for earlier in the evening on April 6 and it will be publicly noticed as soon as possible.
All meetings notices are posted on the town’s website.
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