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Tuesday, April 7 Local

Coronavirus forces Danbury area meetings to cancel, go virtual

with the governor limiting gatherings to 50 people to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, towns are opting to cancel, postpone or hold meetings virtually.

588的彩舒适bethel has pushed its budget process back a month to avoid large crowds at its public hearing, which had been scheduled for early next week. towns like brookfield and bethel plan to cancel non-critical meetings and livestream others, while all meetings are still on virtually in new fairfield.

588的彩舒适“people have the right to participate in the process, but we don't want to put people in a room where they're going to be at risk,” bethel first selectman matt knickerbocker said.

588的彩舒适the governor’s recent suspended the mandate for in-person open meetings, but the public must be allowed to view or listen to the meetings through technology.

Virtual meetings

meetings in brookfield will be livestreamed, with residents permitted to write in beforehand. but having residents call into the meeting during public comment could be complicated, first selectman steve dunn said.

588的彩舒适“that's gets a little problematic if you have 15-20 people all trying to talk at the same time,” he said. “we're going to have to play that by ear.”

588的彩舒适in new fairfield, a moderator will lead virtual meetings, first selectman pat del monaco said. the public and board members will call into the meeting on their phones or computers using a platform called zoom.

588的彩舒适“they (residents) will be allowed to present public comment just like a regular meeting,” she said.

bethel is looking into doing something similar, with letters being read aloud, knickerbocker said.

588的彩舒适“the goal is to be able to conduct business and still have the public view the meeting, but still participate to the degree they would be able to under normal circumstances,” he said.

588的彩舒适danbury mayor mark boughton said the city is working on a plan for how to hold meetings, with details to be announced next week.

588的彩舒适“there will be some kind of virtual component,” he said.

new milford school board held a virtual meeting tuesday evening through zoom, which allows audio and visual participation, said angela chastain, chair of the board. a virtual private break-out room was used for executive session, with residents able to wait on the line until public session resumed, she said.

newtown residents were told to call into a wednesday evening public hearing on the $122 million budget proposal.

sherman, however, has not implemented virtual meetings yet, although officials in the town of roughly 3,500 aim to, first selectman don lowe said.

588的彩舒适“i’m looking at trying to set up some kind of a way for the public to remotely come into our meetings,” he said. “believe it or not, we don't use that technology here, like a lot of places do.

commission members are deciding to cancel meetings on a case-by-case basis, with the public invited, as long as they are not sick or at risk for the virus, lowe said.

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588的彩舒适for now, a town meeting where residents would vote on a few capital items and rescinding a septic system ordinance is still on for march 28, lowe said. he expects 20 to 30 people to show up.

Budget voting still unclear

588的彩舒适another from the governor gave towns a 30-day extension on any budget deadlines on or before may 15.

588的彩舒适this overrides the requirement in bethel’s charter mandating the annual town meeting be held within the first seven days of april, with the referendum held 7 to 15 days later. this allowed the public hearing on the proposed to be postponed to april 27, with the annual town meeting on may 4 and a recommended referendum date of may 12.

588的彩舒适but knickerbocker said these dates could change again should the outbreak persist.

the problem could come during the annual town meeting, when residents vote in person to send budget proposals to referendum, first selectmen said.

588的彩舒适“we don't know how we would accomplish that,” del monaco said. “there are problems in identifying voters if you were to do anything virtually. we're waiting on state guidelines to proceed.”

588的彩舒适there are no plans from the state yet.

“annual town meetings are completely in the purview of the town, so this would be up to the town attorneys in the specific towns,” said gabe rosenberg, spokesman for the secretary of state’s office.

lowe expects sherman would still be able to hold its annual town meeting. two years ago, no one showed up. last year, when the tax rate decreased, four people came to “congratulate” officials, he said. the tax rate is projected to decrease again in the latest budget proposal, so he said he does not expect a huge turnout.

588的彩舒适holding a referendum itself would also be challenging, officials said. lowe said he wants to look into whether sherman could approve its budget at a town meeting instead.

“there is a lot of ‘i’m not sure,’” he said. “these are strange times.”

towns must pass their budgets by june 30.

588的彩舒适bethel’s charter allows it to operate under the previous year’s budget numbers for up to 90 days into the next fiscal year.

588的彩舒适“we’re really looking at, from a budgetary point of view, a catastrophic situation if we don't have a budget by then,” knickerbocker said.

Julia Perkins|Reporter

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