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New England News

Town Meeting Day Brings Vermonters Out To Discuss School Budgets And Local Issues

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It is Town Meeting day in Vermont and voters are choosing local officials, deciding school budgets and considering a number of ballot questions.

It’s a tradition across New England: residents gather at town hall to discuss town issues and vote on budgets and elect local leaders.  In Vermont, it’s usually held the first Tuesday in March, but the date has become pliant as towns try to get more people involved. Towns including Grand Isle, Colchester, Shelburne and Hinesburg held their meetings over the weekend or Monday evening in order to not interfere with the workday.  Some towns, including Winooski and Milton, hold their meetings to discuss budgets on Monday evening, but vote by ballot today.
St. Michael’s College Professor of Political Science Bill Grover observes that it’s an off-year election cycle and he expects overall low turnout.  “In most towns, including my own, I think school  budgets are going to be getting more scrutiny than they  usually get. Vermont has a situation with a whole lot of smaller schools, and there’s a big push now to consolidates schools and to reduce costs.  I think that for a lot of towns voting on school budgets this year is going to be very painful.”

Middlebury College Professor Emeritus of Political Science Eric Davis plans to closely watch school budget voting during town meetings.  “What we have this year is a situation in which a very large number of school districts have worked very hard to keep their  budget increases quite low. But the property taxes in most districts will go up significantly more than that because of a combination of factors. The formula that the state uses  to calculate state aid, which include an enrollment component, and the enrollment  in most school districts is dropping. Property values in Vermont has continued to decline and many districts are still facing significant increases for their health-insurance. So I'm interested to see and many people in Montpelier are interested to see whether a larger than usual number of school budgets will be turned down. Would that put education finance as a priority issue on the legislature’s  agenda for next year?”

Town Meeting Day in Vermont often places questions before the voters that not only pertain to local issues, but gauge attitudes on national issues or trends. This year most pertain to local issues. They include 20 communities being asked whether the state should create a public bank.  Voters in Lowell must reconsider their support for the Kingdom Community Wind project, even though the 21 turbines are generating power. In 2010, before the project was built, 75 percent of Lowell residents voted in favor of the project.  But the Vermont Supreme Court ruled that an anti-wind resolution was improperly passed over during the community's 2012 Town Meeting and it must be reconsidered. The non-binding question is being considered today.
There are only a few resolutions of statewide or national interest, according to Bill Grover.  “Burlington has got article six, seven and eight. They have to do with gun control. There's a couple of organizations, the Vermont Federation of Sportsman's Club is on the pro-gun side and there’s Gun Sense Vermont on the other side. So you’re going to see some votes on charter changes with  article six, seven and eight gun control.  And then in some smaller towns, Albany, Burke, Glover, Stratford, Hartland there’s going to be a ballot measure which could prohibit the flow of tar sands oil through those towns. So I think that those issues, gun control in Burlington and then six or seven smaller Vermont towns the transport of tar sands oil,  are issues that have a little bit of  national implications as well as local implications. But I think basically it’s going to be a fairly quiet year and I do think that school budgets are going to be the big one.”

Town Meeting Day is a holiday for state workers and Vermont law allows employees to take unpaid leave from work to attend a town meeting. Voting ends at 7 p.m.
 

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