Category Archives: Town Meeting

Property tax rate likely headed up another penny

Look for the statewide property tax rate to jump another penny before lawmakers adjourn this year.

The House last month approved a 1-cent increase in the statewide rate, bringing the figure from 87 cents to 88 cents. But that was before Vermonters headed to town meeting. And the school budgets approved last Tuesday, lawmakers learned today, included much higher increases than legislators had projected.

The 88-cent property tax rate presumed a 1.7-percent increase in school spending. After Tuesday’s votes – budgets in all but seven districts were approved – the increase looks to be closer to 3 percent, according to legislative analysts testifying before the House Committee on Ways and Means.

Maintaining the 88-cent rate would bring the reserve in the education fund down to 3.5 percent, well below the 5-percent lawmakers tend to maintain.

“We probably need another penny, is my guess,” said Rep. Janet Ancel, chairwoman of Ways and Means. “But I think we anticipated that would happen.”

School districts also anticipated the increase – most based their budget and tax calculations on an 89-cent statewide property tax rate.

Brad James, finance guru at the Department of Education, said he directed inquiring business managers atVermontschool districts to go ahead and assume the rate would increase by another penny before the end of the session.

School budgets by and large won the support of voters Tuesday. Of the 226 budget votes, only seven went down. Districts collectively will spend about 2.9 percent more next year than they did this year. Twenty-two towns have yet to vote on their school budgets, though those districts aren’t large enough to impact the overall spending trajectory.

Gov. Peter Shumlin had urged districts to hold the line on school spending. Doing so, he said, would allow the state to likewise hold the line on statewide property taxes.

Doyle survey out; wind power question sparks controversy

The annual “Doyle poll” that will be available at town meetings across the state this Tuesday is intended to take the pulse of Vermonters on the hot political issues of the day, and one of the questions this year is already generating controversy.

Sen. Bill Doyle, a Washington County Republican, first used the survey as a freshman lawmaker in 1969 to gauge Vermonters’ opinions about a major proposal to enact a sales tax, and he has used the survey every year since.

The unscientific yet entertaining survey has a question this year about building wind turbines on Vermont ridgelines. Utility-scale wind power has been the focus of explosive debates in the last year, particularly when it comes to a project in Lowell being developed by Green Mountain Power.

One of the 14 questions on the Doyle survey is straightforward enough: “Should wind turbines be built on Vermont ridgelines?”

But a group that opposes the Lowell project has linked the Doyle survey question to an ad campaign launched recently by Renewable Energy Vermont, a trade association for clean energy businesses.

A group called “Ridge Protectors” that opposes the Lowell project said in a news release this week that the “feel good” television advertising campaign by Renewable Energy Vermont is designed to influence Vermonters so they check the “yes” category on the Doyle survey’s wind power question.

“Senator Doyle’s survey is something we look to as an indicator of Vermonters’ opinions on issues of the day – not how much Vermonters have been moved by advertising,” Steve Wright, one of the most vocal opponents of the Lowell project, said in a news release.

Gabrielle Stebbins, the executive director of Renewable Energy Vermont, said the ads are not designed to sway the Doyle survey results.

“Certainly not,” she said. “Realistically, there has been pretty much a one-sided debate by a variety of players about wind, and REV just really felt it was critical that some of the erroneous and false statements be corrected.”

Asked about the timing of the ads, Stebbins said “it’s more an issue of when we’ve been able to get to work on the project.”

She added that government reports that favor wind power have come out just recently.

Other Doyle survey questions this year ask Vermonters if they think Gov. Peter Shumlin is doing a good job, whether people are optimistic about the future of Vermont and the nation, and whether possessing small amounts of marijuana should continue to be a crime.

His poll may be unscientific, Doyle said, but he believes it reflects Vermonters’ views given the large number of responses he gets.

“I really believe in general when you do 15,000 you’re really getting a reflection of the state of Vermont ,” said Doyle.

Doyle also argued there’s “nothing magic about professional polls,” pointing to a flawed poll during the gubernatorial race between Jim Douglas and Doug Racine in 2002.

 

Town Meeting photos from around the state #tmdvt

0302_TA_Northfield Town Mee

Five-month-old Ryan Bright, attending her first town meeting Tuesday, watches voters enter the auditorium at Northfield Middle and High School as her mom, Lydia Petty, watches the goings-on. Stefan Hard / TA

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Weston selectboard member Dennis Benson (center) responds to a question from the floor during Tuesday's town meeting held in the Weston Playhouse. Albert J Marro / RH

0302_TA_Roxbury Town Meetin

Michael Hedding, left, and Rodney LaRose listen to debate Tuesday during Roxbury's town meeting at the town hall. Stefan Hard / TA

Washington approves upgrades to library; still talking budgets #tmdvt

Washington’s afternoon town meeting got off to a fast start, but soon bogged down when talked turned to a proposal to invest in a handicapped accessible addition to the Calef Memorial Library.
Warned as a request to borrow up to $250,000 to fund an addition that has been in the planning process for 12 years, Library Trustee Andrea Poulin reduced the request to $215,000, encouraging voters to approve funding for an addition she and others said was long overdue.
However, questions about a financing package that included an ill-defined “balloon payment” coupled with concern that the project was a reach given the current state of the economy sparked a protracted debate that spanned 90 minutes, featured two paper ballots and generated a fair amount of division.
“Now is not the time to do this thing,” resident Linda Moran said, citing the price of the project in a troubled economy.
“The time to do this thing is now,” resident Bryan Brown said, suggesting the economy that had Moran concerned created a “buyers’ market” for contractors that could lead to favorable bids potentially reducing the cost of the project.
Poulin's amendment was approved, 50-13, on the first of two paper ballots. The article was ultimately approved, 39-19.
Although it took them awhile to get there, there Washington voters didn’t waste much time approving the $606,991 budget proposed by the Select Board.
Given rising fuel prices one resident actually suggested adding money to the level funded budget in order to avoid a possible deficit. However, he was assured the budget was sufficient and if fuel prices continue to escalate road the town would cut back on its plans for road resurfacing.

East Montpelier debates CVAC funding increase #tmdvt

East Montpelier residents spent an hour today debating a proposal to increase substantially town support for the Central Vermont Community Action Council.
The CVAC requested the usual $400 from East Montpelier, but East Montpelier Lister and resident Renée Carpenter suggested that the amount for the CVAC be increased to $9,000.
Carpenter said that she’s worried President Obama and the U.S. Congress are proposing deep cuts to programs such as the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program and nutrition programs for children, and that that those cuts could severely impact CVAC’s ability to help Vermonters in need.
The CVAC, she said, “has provided around $85,000 in services” to East Montpelier, and so residents should increase their support for the Action Council to $9,000.
Others recommended changing the amount to $5,000 or just doubling it to $800, but all of the amendments were voted down and the original $400 proposal passed.
Voters approved an article designating East Montpelier a Clean Energy Assessment District. This is part of Vermont’s Property Assessed Clean Energy program that allows homeowners to borrow money from the municipality to cover the initial investment in energy efficient or renewable energy home upgrades, such as solar panels, insulation or new windows.
Residents also agreed to spend $9,000 for maintenance of the town’s cemeteries, and to double the amount disabled veteran's can deduct from their property valuation from $20,000 to $40,000.
The Four Corners Schoolhouse Association got $3,900, and residents agreed to continue bus service into Montpelier at a cost of $8,333.
Polls will remain open until 7 this evening for residents to cast their vote for the four Articles requiring ballot voting, as well as the election of officers and the school district.

More on Doyle ban in Barre

Add Barre City resident Bill Day to the list of people upset by the Board of Civil Authority’s decision to ban Sen. Bill Doyle’s Town Meeting Day survey from the Barre City balloting station this year.
“My thought is they’re taking away my right as a resident of Barre City to express myself,” Day said this afternoon.
The BCA, as we previously reported, decided at a meeting last Thursday that Doyle’s famous town-meeting survey resembled something akin to campaign material. They apparently told Doyle he could dispense the surveys only if he removed his name and contact information from the one-page survey.
Doyle declined. And Day said you can’t just take the “Doyle” out of the “Doyle Survey.”
“If people didn’t see his name on it, then they wouldn’t associate it with the survey they’ve been filling out for years,” Day said. “It’s been a reputable poll for years.”

Williamstown voters approve sherriff deputy, despite criticism; Moose tax exemption

It didn’t happen until after their lunch break, but Williamstown voters finally asked for a paper ballot in order to decide whether to spend an extra $20,000 on a part-time deputy from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department during the coming fiscal year.
The request submitted by Sheriff Bill Bohnyak would be in addition to $50,000 Williamstown already appropriates for coverage that some residents said was less than satisfactory.
Resident Doreen Chambers was one of them.
Chambers offered a critical assessment of the current arrangement, describing the department as unresponsive and citing her own experience involving break-ins.
“This is not working,” she said. “I just don’t think they (Orange County deputies) have the skills to do the job.”
Others wondered whether it was time for the town to consider investing in a full-time constable or some other form of local law enforcement.
That sentiment was shared by at least one member of the Select Board, though others suggested this isn’t the year to make the change.
The request for additional funding was approved, 61-27.

Second paper ballot

A voice vote that was too close for Moderator Winston Chambers to call led to the second paper ballot of the afternoon as Williamstown voters wrestled with whether to grant a tax exemption requested by the Loyal Order of Moose.
The financially strapped club had asked for an open-ended 100 percent exemption and while resident John Perkins said he’d feel more comfortable granting the request through 2014, resident Conrad Beattie said 100 percent tax break was too much to ask. Beattie proposed a 50 percent exemption through 2014.
After Chambers was unable to determine whether the amendment passed or failed, voters who had yet to say no to anything this town meeting, kept the club’s hopes alive. Beattie’s amendment was defeated, 30-61, and voters subsequently approved the three-year tax beak suggested by Perkins.
As the afternoon session was drawing to a close, voters also agreed to appropriate $5,000 to repair the chimneys at the Ainsworth Public Library, and $10,000 for the Williamstown Historical Society.

Dispatch from Williamstown – on lunch break

Argus reporter David Delcore just sent us this dispatch from Williamstown, where an earlier-than-usual lunch break was the only thing that prevented voters here from wrapping up the public portion of town meeting before the noon.
Both major municipal budget proposals, which total more than $1.5 million this year, were approved in a matter of minutes
Voters, who easily approved a $761,559 general fund budget and overwhelmingly rejected an attempt to trim $76,592 from the $776,592 highway fund budget, spent more time talking about a plan to finance a now-completed waterline project on Graniteville Road than they did either one of the town budgets.
Ultimately they approved a proposal, which involved reimbursing the town’s fire truck reserve fund $96,275 that was borrowed to buy an ambulance in 2008 and then turning around and loan $170,000 from that fund to finance the waterline project over eight years at 3 percent interest.
A proposal to forego the interest, which some viewed as an added burden for the town’s water users, was defeated and the plan advanced by the Select Board was approved.
During a particularly tame town meeting voters also agreed to appropriate $42,000 of a general fund balance to a public safety reserve fund, while using the balance to reduce taxes, and voted to appropriate $100,000 from a highway fund surplus to an equipment reserve, while earmarking the balance – more than $190,000 for future paving projects.
Voters agreed to recess the meeting at 11:30 a.m. though there wasn’t much in the way of business left to conduct.
Questions yet to be answered ranged from whether to appropriate $20,000 for the services of a part-time deputy sheriff to whether to grant a 100 percent tax exemption requested by the Loyal Order of Moose.
The meeting is scheduled to reconvene at 12:30 p.m., and the polls at Williamstown Middle High School will remain open until 7 p.m. Topping the list of questions voters will decide by Australian ballot this year is the fate of the $8 million budget proposed by the School Board.

Universal health care supporters out in force across Vermont

 A group responsible for galvanizing grassroots support for universal health care is out in force today at town meeting venues across the state.
Volunteers with the Health Care is a Human Right Campaign have taken up posts in more than 50 towns and cities. At some polling stations, campaign volunteers are snapping photos of citizens holding a sign that reads “Health Care is a Human Right.” Those pictures will later be delivered to elected officials in Montpelier.
“We certainly weren’t going to miss the opportunity of people getting together on the most democratic day of the year to talk about how we can inject democracy into our health care, which is almost nonexistent right now,” James Haslam, executive director of the Vermont Workers Center, which has organized the campaign, said today.
House Republicans last week urged their constituents to use Town Meeting Day as an opportunity to press their elected representatives on some of the harder questions surrounding the single-payer proposal, namely: How much will cost? And who’s going to pay?
Haslam says Republicans aren’t the only ones with questions.
“The conservatives are trying to raise questions about how this will work, but we also have questions,” Haslam said. “That’s why for us it is so important to get into Vermont communities, and make sure the system we move towards is one that is really accountable to our community. We need to have some way to participate in decisions about something as important to us as our health care.”

Williamstown breezes through budgets early

You know you're in Orange County when …
Williamstown Town Moderator Winston Chambers kicked off town meeting by informing residents that there were two special boxes – one for an exit poll on the school budget and the other for the "Bob Doyle poll."

 With the school budget and all other school-related requests with financial implications being voted by Australian ballot for the first time this year, school directors had an easy time of it this morning.
It took less than 20 minutes to breeze through the school portion of town meeting and most of that time was spent listening to Town Clerk Debbie Palmer read the warning and school directors field questions about the shift to the day-long voting system that has long been used to settle local elections.
Talk turned to municipal matters at 10:20 a.m.
It took barely 13 minutes for Williamstown voters to approve more than $1.5 million in municipal spending during their open town meeting today.
Voters easily approved a $761,559 general fund budget and overwhelmingly rejected an attempt to trim $76,592 from the $776,592 highway fund budget.

Turnout sparse at Barre City polls

Voters were in surprisingly short supply at Barre City this morning.
“There’s nobody here,” veteran poll worker Gary Adamski said. “I’ve never seen it this bad.”
Election officials easily outnumbered voters in what Adamski said was a remarkably slow first hour.
The polls opened at 7 a.m. and by 8 a.m., only 47 of the city’s 6,500 registered voters had cast ballots.
That figure didn’t count 168 absentee ballots, though City Clerk Carol Dawes said that number was significantly lower than other elections.
Turnout wasn’t any better in neighboring Barre Town where only 55 voters had cast ballots in an all-school election by 8:30 a.m.
“This is the slowest start I can remember,” Town Clerk Donna Kelty said. “Hopefully it picks up.”

Bill Doyle shut down at Barre’s polling stations

Voters in Barre City today will get to weigh in on proposed budgets for their highways and schools. But when it comes to Vermont Yankee, motorcycle-helmet laws and other issues of statewide interest, the electorate here has been silenced.
Sen. Bill Doyle’s Town Meeting Day survey, a staple at town halls since the Washington County Republican first began distributing the questionnaire 42 years ago, won’t be available at Barre’s polling stations today.
The Board of Civil Authority, which governs city elections, decided the stack of surveys Doyle planned to unload at the Barre Municipal Auditorium was tantamount to campaign material.
“It’s the saddest thing,” Rep. Tess Taylor, a Barre Democrat, said moments after casting her ballot in Ward 3. “Barre is the only community in the state that doesn’t have the Doyle Poll.”
Taylor said she had spoken with Doyle after learning of what she characterized as an unfortunate split decision that was reached by the BCA last Thursday night as the board was taking care of last-minute details.
“He’s hurt,” she said of Doyle.
We haven’t had a chance yet to speak with Doyle about the board’s decision, though we’ll have his take on its decision later today.
Election officials say Doyle was offered the opportunity to remove his name from the poll in order to sidestep what a majority of the board viewed as campaign material.
Doyle, who isn’t running for anything today, reportedly refused, and the board revoked a privilege that has been extended since the unscientific poll’s inception.

Huckabee’s speech

I thought Mike Huckabee’s concession, although a bit long now, sounds pretty good (is it Thursday already?). He’s a great speaker and the broad strokes he makes and the big themes he is hitting here are aimed right for the heart of his conservative supporters.

Looks like Vermont might be the only state going for Obama today. The early results are, well, early, but trend well in Clinton’s favor.

-Dan Barlow

Mixed signals in Brattleboro

According to iBrattleboro.com, voters in that Windham County town approved the resolution calling for Bush and Cheney’s indictment.

Meanwhile, voters there also choose not to elect several progressive members to the Select Board, and instead went for moderate and conservative picks.

-Dan Barlow

MSNBC exit polls for Vermont

According to MSNBC exit polls, Barack Obama beat Hillary Clinton in every single category of voter in the state, except for those with a high school education or less. They went 56-44 for Clinton.

Have some fun looking at these numbers here.

Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal points out Vermont’s high number of delegates compared with its population. For example, Vermont has a superdelegate for every 78,000 people. In Texas, it is one superdelegate for every 672,000 people.

-Dan Barlow