Vermonters head to the polls this Town Meeting Day
BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Town Meeting Day looks a lot different for the second year in a row across Vermont.
The pandemic changed much of the Vermont tradition, moving large indoor meetings to mail-in and Australian ballots. According to a survey by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, only 63 municipalities reported plans to have floor votes this year. That’s 122 fewer communities holding elections from the floor this year compared to 2019.
VLCT’s Karen Horn says while the pandemic put a dent in attendance, she thinks in-person meetings will continue. “I don’t think that it’s going away. I think that there are towns that will return to floor town meetings. When the pandemic allows. We have 75% of towns voting on Australia via Australian ballot. You can still walk into a physical voting space this year and put your ballot in the machine,” she said.
VLCT also estimates about 30 of Vermont’s 246 cities and towns have postponed their town meetings to possibly accommodate an in-person floor vote at a later date.
Here’s a look at some of the things Vermonters will vote on:
Hartford and at least 39 other communities including Rutland Town, Manchester, Bristol, Essex, Milton, Middlesex, and Moretown will vote on the cannabis question.
The Vermont League of Cities and Towns says the Legislature is still discussing local fees, where municipalities can charge $100 for a retail permit. By state law, towns are not allowed to pass additional taxes on top of the 20% state tax. But if a town already has a 1% local option tax for restaurants and hotels, that covers cannabis, too.
In Burlington, there are a few different questions on this year’s ballot. People we talked with Tuesday, came out to vote for city councilors. Eight seats are up for grabs, and even if a few are flipped the balance of power could shift.
“Supporting our police. I think is very important so hopefully, we will see some new perspectives on City Council that’ll move us forward in a positive light. I really think it’s important to support our police,” said Hilary Booth, a Burlington voter on Tuesday.
Burlington voters will also decide on $50 million worth of projects. That’s with a capital bond which includes investments in roads, sidewalks, and Memorial Auditorium. The second is the Main Street TIF bond.
In Fairfax, people will vote on a $1.1 million bond to expand the fire department. The department says the 30-year-old building doesn’t have enough space.
In Williston, residents need to decide whether they want to pay for more firefighters. Approving additional crew members would raise property taxes by more than 13.5%, or just above $9 a month for the average Williston resident. The budget would increase by $1.5 million. The goal is to add nine career firefighter-EMTs to an already depleted crew. If the budget proposal passes, the department would have seven fire and EMT staffers per shift.
MALLETTS BAY SEWER EXTENSION
A sewer system vote is back on the ballot for voters in Colchester.
A question about whether to extend a sewer system along Malletts Bay appeared on the ballot in 1999, 2019, and now 2022. Town leaders say the $17 million proposal is the same this year as it was in 2019, but now it’s primarily funded through grants as opposed to taxpayer money. They say the goal is to reduce human waste in Lake Champlain. If it passes, property owners who would be hooked up to the sewer would have to pay a user fee and the town says construction could begin in 2024 and be complete in 2026.
ST. ALBANS EMPTY LOT
St. Albans residents will decide whether to spend money cleaning up a vacant site.
The one-acre empty lot sits in front of the New England Central Railroad building. The city manager says it’s gone through phases of being vacant and being a junkyard for at least the last 15 years. In the winter, it’s where the city dumps snow. Now, the city is looking to use $500,000 worth of tax increment financing to clean up the contaminants to make development more possible. If the ballot item is approved, we’re told it would be cleaned up around summer with a development deal reached around that time as well.
MONTPELIER AFFORDABLE HOUSING
Montpelier residents will vote on affordable housing.
Voters will decide whether to authorize a $2 million bond, so the city can buy all 138-acres of the Elks Country Club Golf Course. The city would use it to create a new recreational center along with affordable housing.
ATVS ON TOWN ROADS
Andover, Danby, and Royalton are asking residents how they feel about ATVs on town roadways. According to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, residents will be asked if their select boards should adopt an ATV ordinance. In 2020, Newport residents first approved ATVs riding on certain town roads.
Money for various types of trucks, buildings, sidewalks, and sewer upgrades appear on ballots across Vermont this year. That includes:
$25.5 million for a wastewater upgrade in Vergennes.
$16.5 million for wastewater system improvements in Montpelier.
The Vermont League of Cities and Towns compiled this list of upgrades on the ballot, including a highway garage in Milton and improvements at the Guilford Free Library.
FAIR HAVEN PET MAYOR
In Fair Haven, baby goats, horses, chickens, and dogs are on the ballot again this year.
Each year, residents vote on a “pet mayor” to help raise money for community improvement projects. This year, chickens like Colonel Kernal, kids like Elsa, and puppies like Jelly bean are vying for the title. Incumbent Mayor Murfee won’t be running again. His owner says he accomplished what he set out to do, raise money for the playground and dog park.
STOWE FARM CONSERVATION
Stowe residents will decide whether to spend money to conserve a more than 200-acre farm.
The Ricketson Farm will cost $2.5 million to conserve. State and federal funding will cover about half and residents will vote to pitch in $200,000 from the budget. About 400 donors and the farmer himself have made contributions, but the last push is community-centered.
Top issues voters will decide this Town Meeting Day
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