By Sandy Yusen and Lisa Scagliotti, Waterbury Roundabout

Waterbury voters will be asked to go to the polls for a special election on Tuesday, December 5, to decide whether to create a town charter that would allow for new local taxes and clarify some of the municipal manager’s responsibilities. 

That was the unanimous decision of the Waterbury Select Board at its meeting on September 5. At that meeting the board also scheduled two public hearing dates for voters to learn more and ask questions before the special vote. Those will be held on two Mondays this fall: October 30 and November 6, both starting at 7 p.m.

Voting on the charter measure will be by Australian (paper) ballot from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. with the Steele Community Room at the municipal offices as the polling place. Early and absentee voting will be available at the town clerk’s office starting in November.   

Holding the vote as a special election this fall rather than waiting to put the question to voters on Town Meeting Day in March will allow for the measure to proceed through the process in a timely way, town officials have discussed. Questions related to municipal charters require legislative approval. If voters approved the measure on December 5, it would be decided in time to send to the Legislature when the session convenes in early January. 

The proposed charter language would allow for the creation of a local option tax. Municipal manager Tom Leitz outlined the proposal in his quarterly update recently. It would add 1% to the local sales, rooms and meals, and alcohol taxes. Leitz estimates that it would boost revenue to the town by an estimated $600,000 annually. 

Leitz said he believes the tax would help to lessen future increases in property taxes for residents, and would shift some of the tax burden to nonresidents. Presently the only local tax revenue the town collects is from property owners. The option tax would be applied to revenue sources paid by anyone making purchases in stores, restaurants, and pubs, and staying in hotels. He cited a study conducted by Revitalizing Waterbury among 11 local businesses that estimated approximately 60% of their customers hailed from outside Waterbury. 

Any local taxes need to be addressed in a town charter. Waterbury currently does not have a charter and instead defers to state statute for guidelines on local governance. 

Waterbury residents can review and discuss the proposed charter during the two upcoming public hearings that the Select Board will hold October 30 and November 6.

If voters approve the measure and it wins adoption from the Legislature and is signed by the governor, the new taxes could go into effect by early 2025. In discussing the timeline, board members recognized the need to allow adequate time for community engagement and buy-in, while raising concerns that legislative procedures may change in the future to make it more difficult for towns to implement local retail taxes.

The town charter would also incorporate a change to municipal hiring processes. The proposed language in the charter gives the municipal manager the authority to hire for certain positions, with approval from the Select Board. This simplifies the current hiring process and alleviates the burden of volunteer boards to vet candidates and conduct interviews for some positions as outlined in state law.