GUILFORD — The members of the Guilford Select Board voted unanimously Wednesday night to deny a petition to put a financial audit on the 2023 Town Meeting warning.
“[S]hall the Guilford Voters allocate sufficient monies and direct the Guilford Elected Town Auditors to solicit bids to engage and assist with the performance of an external audit of ALL Guilford Town Monies and Funds as a safeguard for the past and future elected government persons?” stated the proposed article, which was signed by 101 people.
But Zon Eastes, chairman of the Select Board, said Guilford already conducts an annual audit of its finances.
“The town has employed an independent, professional audit firm with specific expertise in municipal finances for about the past 15 years,” said Eastes, reading from a statement prepared with the assistance of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. “The decision to do so was taken after discovery of financial errors which had compounded over time in earlier years. ... Safeguarding the security of town funds and monies has been and continues to be a priority of all elected officials.”
It is not known who initiated the petition, said Eastes, though identification of the initiator is not a requirement to get an article before voters.
“I invite the initiators of this petition to consider speaking with the Select Board,” he said. “We would welcome a conversation ... so that people can understand more about what the audit is, and what questions might need to be looked at with regard to the auditing process.”
The petition itself is also available for review in the town offices.
Eastes noted another issue with the petition is that it asks the article be presented to town voters on the ballot.
“Guilford is a floor-vote town,” he said. “The only things that are decided by Australian ballot are the elections of certain officers in the town. That’s the way Guilford has chosen to do it in the past and that’s the way we’ll be doing it again on March 7 at our Town Meeting.”
The only way a town can convert to having all issues decided by ballot is to vote to do so at Town Meeting in advance of the following year’s meeting, said Eastes.
While voters can petition to put any type of article before voters, read Eastes from the statement, a select board is not required to do so if it doesn’t deal with a matter over which the town voters have been given explicit authority in statute.
Examples include making social service appropriations, voting to repeal the business property tax, voting to authorize the select board to hire a town manager, and voting to disapprove a town ordinance.
Eastes also noted that voters can petition to have an annual audit of its finances, but the language of the petition has to comply with standardized language approved by the state.
Eastes said according to the VLCT, the proposed article does not comply.
“We simply cannot include it, according to statute,” said Eastes.