Bolton Referendum to be held in Parish Hall | Bolt

BOLTON — Some members of the Board of Selectmen say they are uncomfortable with the city’s ongoing budget referendum being held on church grounds.

At least one resident also objected to the location at Ryba Hall, located on the grounds of St. Maurice’s Church, officials said. But the decision to hold the budget referendum there was due to limited options in line with federal and state guidelines.

The city’s last two budget referendums at Ryba Hall have both failed. The third referendum will be held again in the hall at 32 Hebron Road on Tuesday. Polling stations are open from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The proposed budget now stands at $23,517,598, about half a million dollars less than the previous budget that failed in the last referendum. The new budget proposal increases spending by about 3% and requires 40.17 million to finance it. Last year’s four budget referendums were held in the same place.

No federal or state law prevents municipalities from holding an election or referendum on church property. Municipal governments, however, generally aim to separate political and religious affairs.

But the Registrar of Electors, whose jurisdiction includes choosing the location of elections and referendums, said the selection was based on necessity.

Besides the Bolton Congregational Church, school buildings are the only other suitable options that comply with a myriad of election regulations. But Bolton Public Schools were still in session when the registrar made his choice, officials say.

Bolton City Hall, where town hall meetings and referendums are traditionally held, does not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It also fails to provide a separate input and output, another necessary item.

While schools have since sent students away for the summer, an election official said changing the location of the referendum would be bad business for the city.

“This referendum is essentially a continuation of a town meeting, and you can’t get up in the middle of a town meeting and change venues,” Republican Registrar of Electors Bernice Dixon said. “You don’t start, in the middle of a sequence like that, to change places. It’s a bad deal for your constituents.

Dixon said his office has only received one resident complaint about the location.

First woman selector Pamela Sawyer said she and other elected officials were not comfortable with holding the referendum on church grounds, and council members had previously opposed the use of Bolton Congregational Church land as temporary office space for town employees, citing a desire to separate church and town functions.

But Sawyer added that the registrars felt they had “no other opportunity in such a small town”.

Sawyer said it would be up to the city to keep the referendum vote at Ryba Hall because the site change would require exhausted city staff to haul heavy equipment.

Elected Robert Morra said he had no problem with the location of the referendum because voters do not vote in the sanctuary of the church. But he said he understood the concerns and that mail-in voting is available for those who object.

Morra called the use of Ryba Hall temporary and said he hoped Selectmen could identify an alternative referendum venue next year, or else strike a deal with BPS to use their facilities.

“Hopefully we can sort this out so we don’t have a problem,” Morra said. “I am optimistic that this is the last budget referendum we will need next Tuesday.”

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