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From the Town Administrator’s Desk: Citizen Petition Articles for Town Meeting

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By Gregory T. Federspiel

At the April 1 annual Town Meeting, voters will be asked to weigh in on two articles that have been submitted through the citizen petition process.  For an annual town meeting, it takes the signature of at least 10 registered voters of the Town to put an article on the ATM warrant.  (These must be submitted 60 days prior to the date of the meeting.)

Article 17 seeks to establish a new town general bylaw that would greatly reduce the use of polystyrene (Styrofoam) and other non-recyclable plastic products from food related establishments in town.  Restaurants, coffee shops and food stores would be required to use compostable or recyclable products in place of any currently used Styrofoam cups and containers, non-recyclable plastic cutlery and straws.  Retail stores would not be allowed to use or sell such products.

As explained in last week’s letter to the editor by Gary Gilbert who has headed up the effort to get this new bylaw approved, this new bylaw takes another step in reducing the use of plastic products that all too often end up in the wrong place, polluting our waters and landscape. This bylaw, modeled after similar efforts in other communities, builds on the plastic bag ban Manchester adopted some six years ago.

A yes vote means the new bylaw would be adopted and go into effect at the specified start date currently stated as six months after adoption. The warrant contains the proposed bylaw language as submitted by the petitioners.  Amendments to this original language will be presented at the Town Meeting by the petitioners and possibly others.

The second citizen’s petition, Article 18, asks voters if they wish to continue to add fluoride to our drinking water.  A yes vote means that you want to continue the current practice of adding fluoride.  A no vote means you want the current practice to stop.

Town voters approved adding fluoride to the drinking water back in 1982.  This was done in a two step process – first at a Town Meeting and then by a ballot vote at a town election.  As noted in last week’s Cricket by Jessica McGovern, the vote was fairly close but a majority approved adding fluoride to the drinking water as a way to help prevent tooth decay.

Since the early ‘80s, the Town has been adding sodium fluoride to the drinking water following state and federal guidelines. The chemical we add is approved for drinking water applications. Our raw water already has fluoride naturally occurring in it (0.3-plus parts per million) and we add a little more to bring the concentration up to the recommended level of 0.7 parts per million. (A large volume of materials exists regarding the efficacy of fluoridating water – the Board of Health has collected materials and your own internet search will find much more.)

The petitioners asked that this be a non-binding vote, thus it is an advisory vote only. If a majority of voters vote no, indicating they no longer want fluoride added to the drinking water, the non-binding nature of the vote would mean additional votes at future meetings/elections would be needed to carry out this preference.  This is because there is no existing state statute that provides a process for reversing a decision to fluoridate drinking water. Thus, special legislation would be needed to carry out this preference. (Or new general legislation approved providing a reversal process.)

The process for seeking a special act of the legislature starts with a Town Meeting vote authorizing the Selectmen to file the legislation. Selectmen then must vote in the affirmative to file the legislation. Next, state legislators would need to pass, and the governor would need to sign, the special act authorizing the town to hold a ballot vote on the special act. Finally, Manchester voters must approve the special act at the ballot booth before the special act becomes law.

These citizen petition articles will be an important part of the Annual Town Meeting.  Please plan to attend so that you can participate in the debate and decision making.

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