On March 1, 2023

Chittenden may shrink elected government at Town Meeting

By Brett Yates

Vermont towns have a long tradition of electing their public servants, including some who occupy positions to which, in other parts of the country, they’d usually be appointed or hired instead. But in an era of waning citizen participation in local government, Chittenden may become the latest municipality to leave parts of this custom behind.

Chittenden’s Town Meeting Day ballot includes 15 articles, the last of which would eliminate the town’s elected board of listers. Before that, voters will consider whether to abolish the town constable and whether to make the collector of delinquent taxes an appointed position instead of an elected office.

Listers assess the fair market value of a town’s properties for the purpose of producing its annual Grand List. The legal and technological complexity of the work, which typically pays a small stipend, has grown over the years, and with towns struggling to find residents willing to take on the responsibility, some have turned to professional assessors to fill the gap.

Chittenden may not have any other clear option. Already short one lister, the town received bad news last year about the remaining two: one would soon retire after a long tenure of service, and the other would decline to seek reelection at the end of her term in 2023. Nobody stepped up to offer to replace them.

Until recently, the Chittenden Select Board continued to search. Still hoping that candidates would emerge as it put together the municipal budget for fiscal year 2023-2024, the board didn’t include funds to hire a professional assessor.

The proposed budget allocates $6,618 for the listers’ usual work. A professional assessor would cost more. The neighboring town of Pittsford, with about double the population, paid $63,620 for the service last year.

“At the end of next fiscal year, we would explain in the town report the reason why there was an overage in that budget,” Treasurer Alyssa Reynolds said.

Reynolds also serves as Chittenden’s interim town clerk. She appears twice on the March 7 ballot, asking for voters’ approval to take over the final year of a three-year term won by her predecessor, Town Clerk Roberta Janoski, who retired last July, and to continue on as Chittenden’s delinquent tax collector.

If Reynolds gets her way, it’ll be the last time she has to run for the latter position. She asked the Select Board to add an article to the ballot that would allow voters to turn the delinquent tax collector into an appointed office, instead of one-year elected term.

“One year is kind of a joke, because it takes more than one year to get things in order and the training and the specific details of the steps you have to take for this position,” Reynolds said. “Because of how much responsibility it has — potentially taking away the right to someone’s personal property — it’s not something that really should be upturned, potentially, every year.”

Finally, the ballot will ask voters, in a two-part procedure, to eliminate the office of town constable, which has sat vacant for years in Chittenden. The municipality contracts the Pittsford Police Department for patrol services.

Besides the aforementioned potential downsizings, Chittenden’s Town Meeting Day will feature one competitive Select Board race between Gary Congdon and Christie Garofano. The proposed municipal budget — $1,534,659, before add-ons that would bring the figure to $1,651,539 — would, if voters say yes to all articles, exceed last year’s approved spending by $244,485.

Along with voters in Mendon, Chittenden residents will also approve or reject a budget of $5,596,599 for the Barstow Unified Union School District — a decrease of more than $200,000 since last year, owing to a decline in the number of students. That ballot includes the election of an at-large school director, for which no candidates’ names appear.

Chittenden’s Town Meeting will take place by Australian ballot, with polls open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 7 at the Chittenden Town Office. The Barstow School Hall will host an informational meeting the night before at 7 p.m. with a Zoom option.

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