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Town Meeting: Frequently Asked Questions

Any registered vote of the Town shall have the right to speak and vote at Town Meeting sessions.

Charter of the Town of Nahant
How do I suggest a change in what the Town is planning to spend?
  • “The right to submit a proposition belongs to all members (of Town Meeting) alike. There can be no monopoly on motion-making.”*
  • By tradition in Nahant, as in most towns, the FinCom makes the first motion on each article, in line with the committee’s recommendations which are mailed to each voter before Town Meeting. Where the FinCom is in favor of an article, the motion will spell out how the committee proposes to adopt the article. If a citizen disagrees, a motion to amend the FinCom’s motion can be made.
  • Where the FinCom recommends against adoption of an article, the motion will usually be to “indefinitely postpone action on this article.” If, after any discussion, a majority vote in favor of that motion, no other motions or actions will be considered in connection with that article. If a citizen disagrees, the way to overcome the FinCom’s proposed indefinite postponement is to convince a majority of the voters to vote against the motion for indefinite postponement. After that motion is defeated, a new motion must be made so that the Town can take the voter’s desired action on the article.
  • The Moderator will be giving clear instructions on each article. He will also respond to any point of information you may raise.
  • In general, one can speak to the motion on the floor (rules: one may not speak more than twice or for more than 10 minutes on any one motion. Of course, decorum is important. State your name and address in Town, address your remarks to the Moderator, and speaker is not to indulge in personalities*
  • The form for making an amendment: “I move the pending motion be amended by the following words__________________ “*
  • For the sake of clarity, complicated proposed amendments need to be written out.
  • Most spending is contained in the Omnibus Article. Each line will be recited. If you have any question or disagreement with any particular line item–you should yell the word “PASS” when that item is read.
  • The Town Meeting will return to discuss all “passed” items for discussion before the vote is taken on the total spending. If you wish to increase spending on any line item, you must identify the source of funds – that is what items would be reduced in order to pay for your proposed increase.
What motions require a majority vote in order to pass?
  • Most motions require a simple majority vote to pass.
  • Motions to indefinitely postpone require a simple majority, as well as motions to amend.
  • The Town Moderator will explain the requirements required to approve each motion as it is presented.
What motions require a 2/3 majority?
  • Generally, motions which will make substantial changes to citizens’ property rights, e.g., motions to change the zoning bylaws, or motions which will put the Town into debt, require a two thirds vote.
  • A few motions require more than a two-thirds vote.
  • The Town Moderator will explain the requirements required to approve each motion as it is presented.
What motions require a ballot vote?
  • Some motions automatically require a ballot vote, most notably a motion which would set salaries of Town employees. Other motions can be by ballot vote if the requisite number of voters want it.
  • Nahant By-Laws Article II section 9: “the Meeting may order that the vote on any motion shall be taken by a “yes” or “no” ballot furnished by the Town Clerk if, on a motion so made, there shall be 25 or more votes in the affirmative.”
  • The Town Moderator will explain the requirements required to approve each motion as it is presented.
What is a Reserve Fund?

This is a fund voted by the Annual Town Meeting and controlled by the Advisory and Finance Committee for extraordinary and unforeseen expenditures incurred by Town departments during the year.

What is a Free Cash

The amount of money left after all prior years’ uncollected taxes have been deducted from surplus revenue. The amount may be used as available funds by vote of Town Meeting.

What is Proposition 2 1/2; what does it mean for Nahant

Proposition 2 1/2 is a State law that places a ceiling on the total amount of taxes that a Town can raise; and it also limits the percentage by which a town’s tax revenues can increase from year to year. Proposition 2 1/2 has no relevance as far as tax increases on individual properties are concerned; it relates only to the total amount of taxes raised by the Town. Your Town’s taxes can rise by more than 2 1/2% through:

  • Exclusions of the cost of debt or spending for capital purposes must first be approved by a two-thirds vote of the local legislative body before appearing on the ballot. The idea is that such costs are outside the regular budget for providing local services; a town may need a new school or wish to acquire land that it could not afford within its tax limits. Exclusions are limited to the life of the expenditure.
  • Overrides are permanent increases in the tax limit. An override, for a specific amount, must be approved by the municipality’s legislative body and placed on the ballot for approval by the voters. No override may increase property taxes above the maximum rate of 2.5 percent of full value**
How are fees established and what are they used for?
  • The Board of Selectmen set the fees for the Town. Trash collection is a fee negotiated with the contracted haulers.
  • Water and Sewer fees cover assessments levied by MWRA for Water, Lynn Water & Sewer for sewerage. Water and Sewer fees also cover over 90% of the Department of Public Works budget. See Omnibus Article line items 81 – 101.
How does Education Reform Law affect the way we run schools?
  • The Education Reform Act of 1993 sets certain standards for the components and totals of local spending on the school system and at the same time sets standards for improved student performance.
  • No town is permitted to spend less than Net School spending. The formula for Net School Spending is set by the Governor’s office and the Department of Education. You are free to ask at any time whether Nahant is at or above Net School Spending.
How can I best practice in Town government?
  • Nahant has a long tradition of utilizing the talents and time of its good citizens. They are often called to share in tackling interesting assignments as members of our many committees. Almost all will tell you, as your FinCom members do here, that the experience is a good one.
  • The Moderator has set up a talent/job bank and would like to see as many citizens as possible enter their names for consideration.


* Town Meeting Time, A Handbook of Parliamentary Law
Johnson, Trustman, Wadsworth Third Edition 2001

** The Issues Book Public Policy Issues in Massachusetts
Compiled By Richard Manley Senior Fellow John W. McCormack Institute of Public Affairs, University of Massachusetts Boston