Mellow Town Meeting

Today is town meeting day in Vermont. There are meetings happening right now in some towns. Some towns had a daytime meeting today and some had theirs last night, including my town of HInesburg. Ours was a relatively quick and quiet meeting. We had nothing on the ballet that was particularly contentious. We had no large increase in taxes. There was not a purchase or expense requiring a bond vote. It was pretty standard stuff.

Our town moderator, who has been elected for one-year terms for as long as I have lived here, is one of the best parts of the meeting. He is clear and judicial and fair and uses humor and really makes sure everyone sticks to the rules. The rules, of course, are Robert’s Rules of Order, in use at town meetings for decades. It is comforting to have such rules, and to have them used every year at the town meeting. It lends a sense that things are orderly and will all work out. It makes me feel as though I am a part of history, following that same guidelines that generations have followed. Our moderator was running again for office, on the ballot today, unopposed. I voted for him happily.

We voted on much of the budget and a couple of other things last night. Library budget, police department budget, lake district budget–all were discussed and approved with little opposition. The budget was broken down into eight separate sections and voted on separately. In years past there has been some heated discussion. Not last night.

One of the biggest issues of the night was that the “dust control” line item had been reduced by $10,000. Someone spoke up to say that the dust was really bad last spring and summer so can’t we keep that money in the budget and do a better job controlling dust this year? The select board noted that the dust control consists of a chloride solution that needs to be applied to dirt roads right before it rains; and it can’t be too cold either. In other words, the conditions need to be just right and if they are not, no dust control. It isn’t that anyone ignored the problem last year, but that the conditions were not right most of the time to make it work. Someone proposed an amendment to the article, adding back the $10,000, but after some discussion that got voted down.

The meeting only lasted a couple of hours so I was out of there around 9:00. Not too bad, considering I left one previous meeting at 11:00, an hour before it ended. Outside the door there were a couple of paper surveys to fill out for those who wanted. One was concerning our union high school, seeking feedback about the community’s perceptions. The other was the usual Doyle survey. This survey, unscientific to be sure, created by a state senator, has been a staple at town meeting and town voting for many years. It asks questions about current hot topics.  Two questions this year were “Should Vermont legalize marijuana?” and “Should drivers be prohibited from using cell phones while driving?” I am curious to see the results.

Voting on some articles happened today. We voted to elect town officers, whether or not to pass the school budget for the town (the first year this was voted by Australian ballot rather than a voice vote at the school budget meeting) and on the union high school budget. We also voted separately on whether to fund a couple of new school buses which, based on the state of the bus my kids ride to school, seems like a good idea.

We will all find out tomorrow what towns passed their school budget and what issues were debated across the state. I like to be part of the process. It is good to know that if I or anyone else stands up to ask a question or to support something or to oppose something in town, we will be heard. Sometimes it is the person who stands up who sways the rest of the voters. That is a power to be respected.

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