Charlotte town meeting shows a town largely united

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Town meeting was short and generally affable in Charlotte this year; the multi-purpose room at Charlotte Central School was noticeably absent of much tension, multiple hearty laughs punctuated even the more tense discussions, and with resounding ayes, and only one close call, all seven articles that were up for a vote passed on Tuesday, including the unanimous approval of the town’s operating budget.

While voters formed a line that stretched sometimes all the way out to the parking lot, the morning meeting opened with a welcome from Charlotte Representative Mike Yantachka, a round of applause for Junior Lewis for his forty years of faithful service to the town and Christ Davis for his twenty years as fire department chief, and then the serious business at hand began. Jerry Schwarz moderated the meeting.

With only a lone “no” vote for both Articles 1 and 2, meeting attendees acknowledged reports from the town officers and approved November 15 as the date property taxes are due. After a few words from Shirley Bean (who has attended town meeting for sixty years) about the Charlotte Grange, the organization’s property on Spear Street retained its tax-exempt status for another five years with the vote on Article 3.

Article 4 discussions were more in-depth, with a presentation from John Snow of the Charlotte Volunteer Fire and Rescue Services (CVFRS) of the fire department’s current and projected operating expenses. Though the issue has been fraught with tension in the past, this year’s update raised no controversy.

After audience members asked questions about the budget on a variety of topics, from the distribution of Vermont State Police speeding ticket revenues to town donations to nonprofits to a request for the fire department to assist the Boy Scouts with some merit badge tests, the $3,103, 563 budget passed unanimously.

Article 5 asked voters whether or not the General Fund could allocate to the Conservation Fund up to two cents on the tax rate; Liam Murphy introduced from the floor the first of several debate-inspiring advisory motions by moving to guarantee at least one cent on the tax every year be allocated to the fund. Though there were some voices supporting this motion, the overwhelming majority of commenters agreed with Chris Cullen, who said it “doesn’t make much sense to force money on the issue,” when the Conservation Fund is adequately funded the way the process currently works.

Article 6, authorizing the town to borrow money by bonds or notes not in excess of anticipated revenues, passed without comment. Discussion on article seven, which asked for any other business, began innocuously enough, with a suggestion that the Selectboard prepare a report for next year’s town meeting about safety for bicyclists. As the town meeting audience sensed the end of the meeting and began to depart, Selectboard member Matthew Krasnow read an advisory motion that stopped the remaining crowd in their seats.

Krasnow proposed that the Selectboard recommend to the Vermont legislature that, should Article 9 pass by Australian ballot that day, the Selectboard does not stand behind that article. Article 9 presented a Town Charter that involved, among other items, voting on the town budget by Australian ballot every year after a preliminary verbal vote at town meeting. Krasnow said the Town Charter “sacrifices the potency and immediacy of town meeting,” and suggested that there was not enough discussion of the matter before it went to vote this year.

Audience members, including several who had worked on the Town Charter, quickly fired back at Krasnow’s motion, pointing out that this matter has been discussed publicly at both town meeting and at many other meetings, and that the Selectboard had been afforded adequate opportunities to register concerns or make changes to the charter.

Krasnow defended his advisory motion, stating that his interest was in protecting the spirit of the tradition of town meeting while allowing voters to preserve their taxation with representation. After much discussion, the advisory motion received a final, verbal no vote.

Articles voted by Australian ballot pertaining to school budgets, municipal charter, village designation, and energy project sitting standard all passed. All candidates for elected positions were voted in. There were no write-ins with more than 30 votes. Voter turnout was 1733 voters, or 57 percent.