Ask Vermont municipal clerks if anything on their March town meeting agendas is especially newsworthy and most respond with a deceptively dismissive answer.
“Nope,” Josephine Kilbride says in Searsburg, population 103.
“Not here,” Anita Bean says in Townshend, population 1,015.
“Nothing too crazy or unusual,” Wendi Dusablon says in Highgate, population 3,660.
Nothing, that is, other than the Covid-19 pandemic has canceled most floor-meeting debate and channeled local decision-making onto ballots in about 80% of the state’s 246 cities and towns.
Vermont’s 28 municipalities with 5,000 or more people are set to vote for local leaders, spending and special articles as they do annually. But a majority of the state’s 218 communities with smaller populations are upending decades of town meeting tradition by moving from “in person” to “on paper.”
Some sort of floor meeting will take place in only 11 towns — Addison, Bloomfield, Duxbury, Granby, Highgate, Kirby, Norton, Pawlet, Stratton, Williamstown and Woodford — with most being smaller evening gatherings or gaveled in for the sole purpose of adjourning to a later date.
More typical is Newark, population 572, which has moved all its business to Australian ballot.
“We stuck to the regular items,” Assistant Clerk Kasey Talbot says. “Our selectboard and treasurer went to lengths to make it very simple because there wouldn’t be the usual ‘from the floor’ discussion.”
VTDigger is underwritten by:
That hasn’t stopped other communities from offering a few pricey proposals.
Take water and sewer bonds. Newport City will vote on a nearly $5 million plan for a new water-storage tower and related infrastructure, while Brandon will consider spending $5.7 million and Castleton $2.5 million to upgrade their respective sewage-treatment plants.
Wilmington will weigh a $5.5 million bond to replace its police and fire headquarters with new public safety facilities.
Most special requests, however, don’t exceed six figures. Danville, for example, will decide whether to spend $606,000 to pave a stretch of highway from the Town Garage Road to the neighboring Peacham line.
Panton is requesting a $270,000 salt shed and equipment barn, Roxbury will weigh the $250,000 purchase of Roxbury Road property for a village park, and Peru will consider spending $200,000 for a pavilion on the town green.
“Our volunteer fire department has constructed and maintained an ice rink there for the past two winters, and it has been an amazing asset,” Peru Town Clerk Jennie Freeman says. “We are in the very beginning stages of exploring a structure to support more community gathering and energy.”
Fairlee will vote on spending $30,880 for more Orange County Sheriff’s Department patrolling.
“We had a few break-ins last summer and fall,” Town Clerk Georgette Wolf-Ludwig says.
A request to allow the local sale of recreational marijuana will appear on ballots in at least 23 communities, including Barton, Bennington, Berlin, Brandon, Brattleboro, Brownington, Burlington, Danby, Danville, Duxbury, Lyndon, Middlebury, Montpelier, Newport City, Pawlet, Pownal, Randolph, Richmond, Salisbury, Strafford, Waitsfield, Waterbury and Winooski.
Last fall, Vermont became the 11th state to legalize such business starting in 2022, although the law requires communities to “opt-in” in order for retailers to seek the proper permitting.
More than a dozen communities will decide whether to stick with the state’s Act 46 school district consolidation efforts.
Brattleboro, Dummerston, Guilford and Putney will consider a call to disband the Windham Southeast School District they formed just two years ago.
Athens and Grafton will confirm or cancel nearby Westminster’s recent vote to leave their shared Windham Northeast Union Elementary School District.
And Bridport, Cornwall, Middlebury, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge will cast ballots on neighboring Ripton’s request to withdraw from their Addison Central School District.
VTDigger is underwritten by:
Although about 200 communities will hold March votes, about three dozen are postponing local debate and decisions until outdoor gatherings this spring.
Communities pursuing April meetings or ballots include Marshfield, Plainfield, Stamford, St. Johnsbury, Vershire and Winhall.
Those pursuing May meetings or ballots include Barnard, Brookfield, Corinth, Dover, Hartland, Holland, Jamaica, Londonderry, Readsboro, Sharon, Sheffield, Stannard, St. George, Tunbridge, Vernon, Wardsboro, Westminster, Weston and Whiting.
Those pursuing June meetings or ballots include Baltimore, Belvidere, Eden, Jay, Sudbury, Troy and Waterville.
A majority of communities, however, are sticking with the traditional first Tuesday of March — in part because their ballots are free of unwelcome surprises.
Barton is crediting surpluses for a 9% decrease in its general budget and 1% drop in highway spending, while West Fairlee says its only ballot change is combining the usually separated amounts for appropriations and operating expenses into one $768,374 question.
Otherwise, municipal clerks have little else to report.
“No big anything,” Janet Yates says in South Hero.
“No, but thanks for asking,” LaDonna Dunn says in Westfield.
“We have no contested races and no unusual questions,” Lucrecia Wonsor says in Killington. “All very boring and ordinary, thank goodness.”
Then again, Killington is set for its first-ever “Town Informational Meeting Drive-Thru Pasta Dinner” just before plugging into its first-ever online informational session on March 1.
“Pick up and enjoy a single or family entree, salad, bread and dessert,” the publicity promises. “Donations accepted and appreciated but not required.”
Missing out on the latest scoop? Sign up here to get a weekly email with all of VTDigger’s reporting on politics. And in case you can’t get enough of the Statehouse, sign up for Final Reading for a rundown on the day’s news in the Legislature.