Sewers, schools & skate parks: What Vermonters will vote on this Town Meeting Day
Town Meeting Day is Tuesday, March 1, and towns and cities throughout Vermont will come together to elect leaders and vote on everything from sewer systems to school funding. Many communities changed how they hold town meetings because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year, about 25% of municipalities will hold floor votes, and 75% will vote by Australian ballot–nearly the opposite mix as before the pandemic, according to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns.
Many Vermont leaders said their communities were deciding how to best spend an influx of federal COVID-19 relief funds. More than a dozen municipalities are considering changing elected positions to appointed ones, and 41 will vote on whether to opt in to the state’s new legalized cannabis retail market, according to VLCT.
Vermont Edition talked to a handful of leaders to hear what issues were important in their communities. Here are some key takeaways from our conversation:
Dominic Cloud, city manager of St. Albans, explained that voters there will decide whether to change their charter so some elected city positions will be appointed by the city council. As it is, the current charter requires elected officials to live in St. Albans. But, he said, in order to hire the best person, the city needs to look outside town boundaries. "Oftentimes we find that we are hiring somebody that lives just outside the city in St. Albans town, or in Georgia or Fairfax, and we need that ability to get the best person," Cloud said.
Hilary Francis, town clerk of Brattleboro, said residents are waiting to see if Gov. Phil Scott will sign into law a charter change allowing 16- and 17-year-old residents to vote in Brattleboro's Town Meeting and Representative Town Meeting. “We’re all just holding tight and waiting to see where he goes with this, because it will impact how we function on Tuesday,” she said.
Voters in Winooski and Montpelier will mark a historic first at their town meetings on Tuesday, when they open voting to legal residents who are not U.S. citizens. Voters in both communities approved charter changes to let noncitizen voters weigh in on local decisions, and the changes were approved by lawmakers in June after overriding a veto by the governor. As of Friday in Winooski, 30 residents who aren’t U.S. citizens had registered to participate in Town Meeting Day.
Montpelier City Clerk John Odum said only four residents who aren't citizens registered to vote as of Friday. "So, here we go, it's the first time through, and we've had a few registrations, and folks are generally pretty excited about it."
Colchester will also be voting on potential sewer upgrades. Charlie Papillo, selectboard member, said voters there will weigh in on a sewer upgrade that supporters say would decrease pollution levels in Malletts Bay and draw more visitors to the area. Opponents worry that a municipal sewer system would eventually lead to overdevelopment, he said.
John O'Keefe, town manager of Manchester, said voters will consider multiple infrastructure projects, including what could be the town's first sewer system expansion in decades. If approved, it could help the town build more affordable housing units on a corridor marked for development. Also up for consideration is a new skate park.
Broadcast live at noon on Friday, Feb. 25.