At its last meeting, the Selectboard, by a 3-1 vote, significantly reduced the responsibilities of the Norwich Finance Committee (NFC) in a bid to rekindle volunteer participation. The NFC has been dormant for at least four years because no residents are willing to join the three to seven member body.
Prior to the Selectboard action on June 13, the Finance Committee’s job was to review the Town of Norwich and Norwich School District budgets. In addition, the NFC, along with the Hanover Finance Committee, constituted the Dresden Finance Committee that reviews the budget of the Dresden School District (RMS and HHS) and SAU # 70.*
The Selectboard slashed the portfolio of the NFC, limiting its review to only Town issues, taking school budgets out of the equation. The thinking was a lighter workload might attract volunteers. To do this, the Selectboard unilaterally dissolved its agreement with the Norwich School Board.
The School Board informally did not favor dissolution, suggesting instead a joint effort toward “revamping and restaffing the finance committee,” according to Selectboard meeting minutes from April 11. However, both the Norwich School Board Chair Tom Candon and Selectboard member John Langhus confirmed in emails that the intent is to revisit a joint committee if interest warrants.
The Selectboard also seemingly curtailed the Finance Committee’s independence, limiting it largely to an advisory role to Selectboard. This curtailment was not explicitly discussed as such. Previously, the charge in 2014 said the NFC was to “provides independent advice in the creation of annual budgets.” The new charge says that advice is to be provided “to the Selectboard.”
It is the Selectboard’s call to set parameters for non-statutory committees, such as the NFC.
At Town Meeting in 2013, the NFC voted “to not support the Town budget this year,” according to the Town Report for Fiscal Year 2013. That was the year of large wage increases based on the Condrey & Associates report.
At the June 2018 Selectboard meeting, Town Manager Herb Durfee, who was not Town Manager in 2013, said, in apparent reference to that vote, he thought the NFC acted inappropriately. Selectboard member John Langhus agrees saying in an email “I do not envision the Finance Committee as being charged with taking a public view of the budget. Theirs is an advisory role to the Selectboard and it should be left to us whether to support or not the Budget.”