Wide Range Of Issues Discussed During Town Meeting Day

Mar 8, 2017

Vermonters come together on Town Meeting Day to elect local officials and decide school budgets.  It’s also a time when residents discuss a number of binding and non-binding questions.  We look at some of the items that came up during Tuesday’s meetings across the state.

The primary Town Meeting Day consideration is school budgets.  This year about 20 communities were also deciding whether to merge school districts.  Burlington voters approved an $85.5 million school budget and a $19 million bond for infrastructure improvements to school buildings.  Vermont NEA spokesman Darren Allen notes that across the state more than 90 percent of school budgets passed.   “Which is typical in Vermont. And what that reflects is on the local level that when folks go to the polls or sit at town meeting and the discussion turns to investing in their children, they tend to trust their local school boards and vote in favor of the budgets.”

In Vermont’s largest city, Burlington voters elected new councilors and decided eight ballot questions.  Among them were charter changes affecting the city council.  Each councilor will receive a pay raise of $2,000, from $3,000 to $5,000, if the state legislature approves the charter change. City Council President Jane Knodell:   “What the council gets is written into the charter. You know otherwise we could just give ourselves raises.  So we want to have a system where the voters have to agree to paying us more.”

Knodell, a Progressive who won re-election, explains that another ballot question approved by voters will allow the council to update how it announces special meetings.   “On an annual basis we set all our regular meetings for the upcoming year. So everybody knows the dates and the times and the places. But sometimes something comes up and you need to call a special meeting and then our charter has language about what notice is required to be provided to city councilors when special meetings are called.  And that language was very outdated and was written before the days of email. So this is just saying that notice can be provided through email.”

A number of the non-standard questions were discussed on Town Meeting Day.  Communities including Morristown, Putney and Bennington approved non-binding measures supporting immigrants and refugees.  Rights and Democracy Bennington activist Jim Vires said they wanted to  affirm their rights, but due to legal concerns not declare sanctuary status.   “Every town has people in their communities already who are probably undocumented or dreamers.  And through no fault of their own they’re now worried that they could be swept up at any time. Now that we have non-binding resolutions what we want to do is help craft and draft legislation that get us as close as we can to being an all inclusive safe welcoming state.”

Several towns passed a non-binding measure that would require presidential candidates to release their tax returns before being placed on the ballot.  In Charlotte voters overwhelmingly approved spending $625,000 to obtain a new pumper truck for the fire department to replace a 37-year-old truck. For more reporting on Town Meeting Day — including Rutland mayoral contest results — visit wamc.org.