Taxes, energy and pot: Voters face diverse issues on Town Meeting Day ballots

2020 Town Meeting ballot
Voters in Vermont’s 246 cities and towns are casting ballots this town meeting season. Photo by Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger

A full slate of Vermont town meeting articles ranging from reorganizing local government to fighting the emerald ash borer to overturning a Prohibition-era ban on alcohol will share the ballot with a crowded presidential primary this Super Tuesday.

Voters from northernmost Alburgh to southernmost Vernon will determine how much to spend on municipal and school budgets and who will serve as local leaders, all while joining 13 other states in deciding between home-field White House candidate Bernie Sanders and a dozen other Democratic contenders and President Donald Trump and two Republican challengers.

As hundreds of small communities prepare to nickel-and-dime budgets, Vermont’s 20 largest cities and towns will mull individual special one-time-only requests — everything from new schools to infrastructure improvements to swimming pools — that together total $250 million.

Bennington, Londonderry, St. Albans City and Waitsfield will cast ballots on a 1% local option tax on sales, alcohol, rooms and meals that’s already raising revenue for 21 other municipalities.

Several localities will consider changes to their governance structures.

Essex will vote on whether to expand its Selectboard from five at-large members to six, three to be elected from its village of Essex Junction and three to be elected from the surrounding town.

Brattleboro will weigh replacing its appointed manager system with an elected mayor.

Cabot, Pownal, Salisbury and Stratton may join a growing list of Vermont municipalities trading their elected citizen auditors for appointed certified public accountants, while Charlotte, Groton, Morgan and Vernon may jump onto an equally long roster swapping their elected citizen listers for professional appraisers.

The moves are part of a statewide trend of towns professionalizing their local leadership, be it replacing volunteers with paid experts, appointing rather than electing support staff or eliminating antiquated posts.

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Highgate, for example, will consider dropping the office of trustees of public funds, while Ira may cut the position of second constable.

Communities also are trying to collaborate with others, a review of town meeting agendas shows.

More than 40 municipalities will vote on creating three separate regional districts to boost rural internet services, with 27 Northeast Kingdom towns casting ballots on a proposed NEK Community Broadband group, 12 Bennington County towns considering a Southern Vermont Communication Union District and four Windham County towns contemplating a Deerfield Valley Communications Union District.

Town Meeting Day vote sign
A sign in Brattleboro encourages Town Meeting Day voting. Photo by Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger

Barnard, Norwich, Pomfret, Sharon, Strafford, Thetford and Woodstock will weigh hiring a full-time regional energy coordinator to explore savings initiatives.

Although the biggest cities face the biggest spending requests — South Burlington alone will vote on a $210 million plan to build a new middle and high school and athletic center at its existing Dorset Street campus — a few smaller towns will see pricey proposals.

Norwich will consider $2 million in capital improvements to start eliminating municipal fossil fuel use and a separate $40,000 to establish a Climate Emergency Designated Fund.

Bridgewater will vote on a $1.8 million fire station, while Brookfield will vote on a $1 million town garage.

Huntington will cast ballots on spending $193,000 to help purchase 245 acres for a proposed town forest, while Proctor will debate whether to sell 1,600 acres of watershed it owns outside its borders in nearby Chittenden.

The threat of the destructive forest insect the emerald ash borer is sparking requests for local extermination efforts, including $10,000 in Grand Isle and $3,000 in Londonderry.

Many municipalities will consider advisory articles on a variety of topics.

Town Meeting Day Super Tuesday
Vermont voters will cast presidential primary ballots this Super Tuesday. Photo by Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger

About a dozen towns will debate a nonbinding Gun Owners of Vermont resolution, already approved by 15 communities, declaring themselves a Second Amendment “sanctuary” from further government restrictions on firearms.

Nearly a dozen localities along the current 33-mile Lamoille Valley Rail Trail will weigh a resolution urging state government to “strongly support the completion” of the full 93-mile recreation corridor.

Vergennes will consider whether to recommend amending its charter to allow non-citizen legal residents the right to vote on local issues.

Londonderry will debate a statement of support for “the opportunity to develop legal cannabis related businesses, and to form a healthy, safe locally based marketplace.”

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Several other communities will cast ballots on a range of binding items.

Thetford, for example, will decide whether to overturn a local ordinance banning the sale and cultivation of marijuana plants for commercial purposes.

Norwich will consider an enhanced fair and impartial policing policy to “limit collaboration with federal immigration officials and welcome and protect the rights of all people.”

And Maidstone, one of only three towns in the state to ban the sale of alcohol, will vote on overturning the Prohibition-era rule the Northeast Kingdom community of 208 now shares with Athens and Baltimore.

The local votes will come as Vermonters cast presidential primary ballots.

In the Democratic race, Sanders will face Joe Biden, Michael Bloomberg, Pete Buttigieg, Tulsi Gabbard, Amy Klobuchar, Mark Stewart, Tom Steyer and Elizabeth Warren, whose names will appear alongside those of four candidates who dropped out after the filing deadline: Julián Castro, Deval Patrick, Marianne Williamson and Andrew Yang.

On the Republican side, Trump will compete against Roque “Rocky” De La Fuente and Bill Weld.

Town Meeting Day is sweet
Many Vermont town meetings will come with dessert. Photo by Kevin O’Connor/VTDigger

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