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Vermont Town Meeting votes to weigh everything from road graders to Gaza


Vermont Town Meeting votes to weigh everything from road graders to Gaza

Feb 25, 2024 | 8:02 am ET
By Kevin O'Connor
Vermont Town Meeting votes to weigh everything from road graders to Gaza

Boxes of annual reports await mailing at the Newfane Town Office. Photo by Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger

Some requests are small, like the town of Brookfield’s call to extend $500 bonuses to its road crew (“Tim, Ritchie and Rob,” it specifies) for their efforts (“one man down”) after last summer’s historic statewide flooding left $500,000 in local damage.

Others are larger, such as Brandon’s proposed 150-kilowatt municipal solar array, Johnson’s potential study of merging its town and village governments, or Londonderry’s plan to hire an administrator to enforce its new ordinance requiring registration of short-term rental housing.

And a few are global in scale, in the case of Newfane’s citizen-petitioned advisory article demanding “an immediate ceasefire” and end of U.S. weapon sales to Israel for its war against Hamas in Gaza.

Vermont’s smaller municipalities from Alburgh to Vernon are facing plenty of questions as they prepare to vote on a wide range of local matters this Town Meeting season — including whether to shift their schedules from the traditional first Tuesday in March or swap out floor debate for mailable ballots.

The state’s 28 cities and towns with 5,000 or more people are set to consider nearly $60 million in capital projects — a one-third drop from the $100 million wish lists they proposed in 2022 and 2023

In comparison, Vermont’s 219 communities with populations of less than 5,000 have their own big-dollar spending requests for everything from buildings (such as Barton’s proposed $850,000 new town highway garage) to bridges (including Rochester’s $359,243 replacement on West Hill Road) — although only four carry individual price tags of $1 million or more.

Richmond, for example, will vote on a $9.84 million set of health and safety improvements to its Town Center government building.

Wilmington will cast ballots on a $3.1 million plan to extend water and sewer lines along Route 9 east and Route 100 south.

And in two requests that come as a result of age rather than flooding, Georgia will consider a new $1.5 million Mill River Road bridge, while Hancock will weigh a $1.2 million loan for a new Texas Falls Road bridge.

As for education, the Mountain Views Supervisory Union towns of Barnard, Bridgewater, Killington, Plymouth, Pomfret, Reading and Woodstock will vote on a $99 million bond to replace the current Woodstock Union Middle and High School, parts which are nearly 75 years old.

Killington also will consider whether to study the impact of leaving the Mountain Views Supervisory Union.

And Cabot will cast ballots for the third time in a decade on whether to close its grade 9-12 high school and pay tuition for its 30 to 40 students to learn elsewhere. (The town voted to retain the school in 2013 and 2019 and rejected a merger proposal that would have closed the building in 2017.)

Several communities will weigh different measures to make more money.

At least six towns will decide whether to join the current 30 Vermont municipalities that have added a 1% local option tax on sales, rooms, meals or alcohol, with proposals set for consideration in Berlin, Halifax, Londonderry, Pittsford, Putney and Woodstock.

At least four towns — Cavendish, Highgate, Killington and Ryegate — will vote on joining the current 75 Vermont communities that have authorized local retail sales of cannabis since the state granted approval in 2020.

Several towns will cast ballots on a growing trend to add members to their governing boards and professionalize their municipal offices.

Proposals to expand local selectboards from three to five members are set for votes in Irasburg, Peacham, Roxbury and Underhill.

(Starksboro, in an exception, will be asking to shrink its planning commission from seven to five members.)

Calls to replace listers with professional assessors will be considered in Arlington, Bethel, Highgate and Monkton, while plans to eliminate the post of constable will be decided in Benson, Middlesex and Sharon.

Putney, for its part, will weigh whether to transfer the duties of its elected cemetery commissioners to the selectboard.

“No one ran for the commission,” Putney Town Clerk Jonathan Johnson said of the impetus for the proposed change.

Several articles will address larger concerns, starting with public safety.

Brandon will vote on whether to explore hiring enough police officers to provide 24-hour coverage without relying on overtime or on-call personnel.

Fair Haven is asking for a $106,000 security camera system “to prevent vandalism” at the Town Hall, local green and playground.

As for housing, Richmond will consider whether the town should study the idea of building units on the municipally owned Browns Court sports field, a rare undeveloped parcel along its local water and sewer line.

And facing problems with the continued flood closure of the Montpelier post office, neighboring Berlin will weigh whether to ask the U.S. Postal Service to create its own separate branch and ZIP code.

For the first time in four years, none of Vermont’s 247 municipalities have publicly announced plans to cancel in-person March Town Meetings due to Covid-19 concerns, according to a VTDigger survey, although many are permanently adopting supplemental pandemic protocols such as mailable ballots.

More than 10 communities will consider whether to move some or all of their voting from meetings to ballots, including Bristol, Cambridge, Cavendish, Guilford, Highgate, Jericho, Lincoln, Randolph, Sharon, Stowe and Wilmington.

Benson and Guilford will decide whether to reschedule their annual meetings to the Saturday before the first Tuesday in March, while Williamstown may move its future gatherings to the first Monday.

And Marlboro will consider returning to a meeting after recently changing to a ballot vote.

Election clerks advise Vermonters to check their community’s voting times and places, as some are casting municipal, school and presidential primary ballots on different days to accommodate local traditions and larger education districts.

Correction: Due to inaccurate information provided by school officials, an earlier version of this story overstated the number of students who would have to learn elsewhere if Cabot’s school is closed.