On March 11, 2020

Local highlights of Town Meeting Day/Primaries

The Mountain Times published more complete coverage and town by town results online (mountain times.info) as the results were announced last Tuesday, March 3.

Here is a summary of some of the votes on important local topics and briefs on some of the more surprising results.

Pittsford does away with town listers

Last Tuesday Pittsford voters overwhelmingly voted to approve an article abolishing the listers office in favor of hiring a professional assessor. The measure was approved 106-12. It’s a trend many Vermont towns have followed as the job of assessing and documenting property values has become more and more complex. Also, the Pittsford listers have resigned one-by-one in recent months.

Two major school bonds and nine district budgets fail

A controversial $60 million bond for a new middle school and a slew of other improvements to buildings within the Slate Valley Unified Union School District was rejected by voters on Town Meeting Day, March 3 by a vote of 2,489-719. A proposed $26 million school budget also failed.

Slate Valley towns include Fair Haven, Castleton, Benson, Hubbardton, West Haven and Orwell. Along with the new middle school, the bond would have paid for a new heating system at the high school as well as a new elevator at an elementary school along with a number of other infrastructure improvements.

Interestingly, the $209 million South Burlington school bond also failed by an overwhelming margin: 6,514 to 1,712, as did their district budget.

Across the state, voters in nine school districts voted down proposed budgets, the highest number since 2017, when 17 budgets failed at the ballot box— although in a pre-merger landscape, there were also twice as many school districts as there are now. In addition to Slate Valley and South Burlington, rejected budgets were Harwood Unified Union School District, Alburgh School District, First Branch Unified School District, Milton Town School District, Springfield School District, Strafford School District and Windham School District.

Gun sanctuary proposals flounder

The issue of Pittsford becoming a gun sanctuary town did not come up at Town Meeting Monday night. There were no motions, comments or discussion from either side on the issue despite the Select Board urging those for and against to bring it up at Town Meeting. In late January and early February, controversy arose at Select Board meetings regarding a non-binding resolution to declare Pittsford a “Constitutional Gun Owner township.” At that time four of the five board members had signed the resolution. Board members were surprised that the topic did not arise at all at Town Meeting.

Gun Owners of Vermont had believed that 11 towns would consider the group’s proposal during their town meetings: Calais, Cavendish, Chester, Lowell, Newport Town, Northfield, Plymouth, Reading, Warren, Weathersfield and Westminster.

But nothing came up about the proposal in seven of those towns, according to local officials. And the idea faltered in three of the four towns that saw mention of it.

Cavendish residents voted down a resolution 33–31 after a discussion that dominated the town’s Monday meeting, according to the Chester Telegraph, an online news outlet covering communities in Windsor County.

Gun Owners of Vermont president Eric Davis told VTDigger “We didn’t get a whole lot of participation, a lot of the towns didn’t feel comfortable with it.”

By mid-February, the group had won support from Select Boards in Clarendon, Concord, Derby, Holland, Irasburg, Morgan, Searsburg, Stamford, Pittsford, Poultney and Pownal. Davis said then, “A lot of Select Boards don’t feel comfortable passing it on their own so they tell people to bring it up at town meeting.”

Gun Sense Vermont, a gun-violence prevention group, opposed the proposals. “2nd Amendment ‘sanctuary’ resolutions can leave Vermonters thinking they are not protected by state law. Constitutionality is decided in the courts. Always,” the group tweeted Monday. “Speak out against these resolutions at your town meeting tomorrow.”

Fair Haven rejects option tax

Fair Haven voters narrowly rejected a 1% local option tax to pay for waste water treatment facility upgrades, 417-414.

The $1.6 million municipal budget was approved 445-351 as was a $50,000 expense for road paving, 658-175.

Bridgewater approves $1.8 million fire department bond

Bridgewater voters approved a $1.8 million bond to construct a new fire department and rescue building on Town Meeting Day, March 3. The bond, which is for 30 years, will be used to replaced the old station, built in 1955. The owner of a $200,000 home will pay $188 more in property taxes starting in 2022.

Rutland Town names new clerk/treasurer

Rutland Town elected a new clerk and treasurer among a crowded field of four candidates on Tuesday, March 3. Kari Clark won both the clerk and treasurer positions, beating Sawyer Hathaway, Chris Kiefer-Cioffi and Gary Ladabouche. All four candidates ran for both the clerk and treasurer.

Voters also approved the purchase of a a 19 acre parcel of land that’s adjacent to the school for $35,000.

Rutland city passes $5 million bond, votes in two new Aldermen

Rutland city voters approved a $5 million bond to improve city streets and sidewalks on Town Meeting Day March 3. The bond passed 3,299-898.

Rutland City voters also cast two incumbents off the Board of Aldermen — Scott Tommola and Matthew Reveal lost their seats to Michael Talbott and Sam Gorruso.

That’s rare. The last time an incumbent lost was in 2009 and the last time that two or more Aldermen were voted off in the same year was 1992.

Vote totals were: Board President Sharon Davis with 2,093; Paul Clifford with 2,036; Michael Talbott with 1,971; Sam Gorruso with 1,866; Matt Whitcomb with 1,715 — all of whom secured a seat on the board. Missing the cutoff were: John Atwood with 1,445; Scott Tommola with 1,432; Matthew Reveal with 1,431; and Cam Johnson with 723.

Joyce Stevens ousts Select Board incumbent in Pittsfield

In a two-way race for a Select Board seat in Pittsfield, Joyce Stevens received 67 votes to incumbent Select Board Chair Charles Piso’s 42 votes. The vote occurred Wednesday night — one day postponed due to scheduling conflicts with the primary election. The Select Board seat was decided by paper ballots; all other articles were approved from the floor.

Proctor voters shoot down Chittenden Watershed sale

Voters in Proctor overwhelmingly rejected the sale of the 1,600-acre Chittenden Watershed for $1.5 million to Florida businessman John Gerlach, who grew up on a Rutland Town farm and owns nearly 600 acres of Chittenden property abutting the watershed.

When the vote was called, only a few residents softly voiced an affirmative vote while the rest of a crowd of about 150 shouted a strong “no.”

Residents stood up prior to the vote to list the benefits of a watershed that requires the town to pay Chittenden more than $4,000 a year in property taxes but reaps an estimated $40,000 annually in profit through periodic logging.

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