© The Stoneham Independent

STONEHAM, MA - A state consulting group will help local leaders consider whether Stoneham needs a change in government.

On Tuesday night, the Board of Selectmen voted to formally request assistance from experts from the Mass. Division of Local Services (DLS) as town officials eye the potential formation of a Charter Commission to examine revisions to Stoneham's budget process and a potential change in government.

The elected officials, who unanimously supported the submission of the DLS request, acted on the agenda item this week without debate.

According to Selectmen Chair Anthony Wilson, Stoneham reps had already been in contact with members of DLS' Technical Bureau for help with the process, but the state employees will not offer that aid until it first receives a formal request from the board.

"We have had discussions in the past about forms of government, and this board asked to bring in someone to speak about it. The Division of Local Services is willing to do that, but they need us to express that wish in a formal vote," he said.

A branch of the state's Department of Revenue, DLS publications and advisories are commonly relied upon by municipal officials seeking demographic and financial data, as well as local aid estimates provided during the state Legislature's annual budgetary process.

The agency is also charged with ensuring city and town compliance with state tax and finance laws, such as the administration of the new local option meals tax and revenues collected from marijuana dispensaries and recreational stores.

It also handling complaints and investigations regarding improper accounting methods and more serious financial improprieties.

This past May, Town Administrator Thomas Younger notified the Board of Selectmen that he was ready to get more serious about exploring a change in government after several officials suggested Stoneham's budget timeline is too inflexible in light of the state Legislature's prolonged spending deliberations.

Several board members at that time had complained that Stoneham's charter, which mandates the selectmen's submission of a proposed annual operating budget by early spring, is now outdated in light of the fact that local aid estimates often aren't finalized until months later.

At a minimum, town officials want to consider a delayed budget process, which would allow for Stoneham's spending plan to head to Town Meeting after the first week of May.

Months prior to that discussion, the Board of Selectmen had also discussed a switch to a representative Town Meeting format. Under that arrangement, rather than allowing all citizens to participate and vote in the assemblies, where some of Stoneham's most pressing business is conducted, residents would instead elect delegates to act on their behalf.

Both citizens and Stoneham's leaders have for years now criticized the dismal turnout at Town Meeting, which in their view, allows special interests to push through legislation of interest - even if it doesn't serve the long-term needs of the community.

Changing Stoneham's form of government could be quite involved.

First, the Board of Selectmen would have to seek Town Meeting approval of the formation of a Charter Commission.

After that group considers and recommends changes to the system of government, the Board of Selectmen would have to endorse them, while another Town Meeting approval would also be needed. A major shift like a switch to a city form of government would also likely require voter approval at the ballot box.

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