Lyme Debates Switch to Town Manager Model of Local Government

LYME — The Succession Planning Committee is debating whether to recommend that the town keep its current board of selectmen or shift to a town council and town manager model of government. 

According to First Selectman Steven Mattson, the committee was formed in July in response to the upcoming retirement of 19 town employees over the next few years. Those departures may 

leave positions that are difficult to fill and possibly require an alternate form of local government. 

At a meeting of the committee on September 16, the nine committee members considered four potential models: 

  • The current model

  • A board of selectmen with additional professional staff

  • Expanding the board of selectmen from three to five members 

  • A town council with an appointed town manager

The committee voted to remove two models from consideration: the current model, and the expanded board.

The committee members were “split down the middle,” said Mattson, on the remaining two models. 

Although Mattson voted to keep the town council and town manager model as a potential option, he said he is not sure which form of government he prefers. 

Dan Hagan, chair of the committee and chairman of the Board of Finance, said that state requirements for town roads and bridge inspection, as well as Department of Energy and Environmental Protection regulations, have become more complex. Hiring either a town manager or more staff members, said Hagan, would help the first selectman, who is now responsible for all of these issues. 

Mattson also said that Lyme has had difficulties attracting qualified candidates to run for selectman given the current salary of $80,000. Hiring a town manager, he said, could bring in someone with professional knowledge and experience who would remain longer than a two-year term. 

On the other hand, Mattson acknowledged that appointing a town manager would take some of the decision-making power out of the hands of the people.

David Lahm, another member of the committee, believes that the drawbacks from having what he called “a less democratic system” outweigh the benefits of having a town manager, especially in a town the size of Lyme. 

“I don’t think we need a town manager,” he said. “We’re not a complex town.” 

Lahm said he was surprised that the committee had discounted the current model of governance, “That’s saying the system is broken beyond repair.” Lahm. said that he didn’t believe this was the case.

According to a cost comparison completed by the committee, both of the proposals currently being considered would require a budget increase. The committee estimates that a town council with a town planner would cost an additional $46,145. Keeping a board of selectmen, but with more staff would cost an additional $94,171.

Hagan said that additional local property taxes would be needed to fund the expense. That, he said, would be one key consideration in the final decision, especially since Lyme is “a frugal town.” 

Before any decision is presented to the town for a vote, the committee will submit a report to the board of selectmen, who will then determine how to move forward. Hagan said that any significant changes will have to be approved at a town meeting.

The committee’s next meeting is on October 21 at 6:30 p.m.

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