By Rich Pollack

When Highland Beach voters go to the polls in March, they’ll find three referendum questions on the ballot, two of which — if approved — could result in changes to the town charter.

The third referendum item on the ballot would give town leaders the green light to spend up to $3.5 million on a sewer pipe lining project to strengthen mains, including some that are more than 50 years old.

Town commissioners are also hoping voters will approve a charter change that would lift the town’s spending limit from $350,000 to $900,000, about what the cap — approved 32 years ago — would be in today’s dollars. The charter change would also include an annual increase in the spending limit based on the regional consumer price index.

Also on the ballot will be a housekeeping item that would give the town the option of having the Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Canvassing Board serve as the town’s canvassing board during municipal elections.

Under the current charter, the town must form a canvassing board to review any questionable ballots in a municipal election and observe the ballot-counting processes for accuracy. The town board is required to include two members of the Town Commission, the town clerk and the county’s supervisor of elections.

One glitch: Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Wendy Link has told town leaders that she does not want to be part of the town’s canvassing board.

“We can’t compel her to sit on the board,” Town Manager Marshall Labadie said.

That puts the town in a precarious position of either having to change the charter, which requires a vote from residents, or not complying with the charter requirements.

“We have to do something because the way the charter reads now, we have to be in compliance,” said Mayor Natasha Moore, who has served on the town’s canvassing board twice.

Moore said that serving on the board requires attending a lot of meetings and being at the Supervisor of Elections Office on election night and waiting for ballots to come in. She said that during one of her terms on the board she didn’t get home until after midnight, even though voting ended at 7 p.m.

The mayor said she believes changing the charter so the town has the option of deciding to use its own canvassing board or the county’s with just a commission vote makes sense.

“This positions us the best way possible because we would have the discretion to choose whether to have our own canvassing board or delegate it to the county,” she said.

While they recognize that the ballot question could be confusing to some voters, town leaders say their hands are tied in efforts to get additional information to the public by a recently enacted state law that prohibits using tax dollars to provide information to residents about anything on the ballot.

“We can’t send flyers or group emails,” Labadie said. “We are encouraging residents to watch previous meetings or to come to Town Hall and read minutes.”

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