Although Town Meeting Day is over for most Vermont towns, Charlotte voters still have one more visit to the ballot box on Tuesday in order to finalize the town budget for 2018-19.
Like most Vermont communities, Charlotte held a town meeting on March 6 and balloting happened that day for town and school elections, the school budget, and related items.
But the town budget was merely up for discussion and possible adjustments, with the final vote scheduled for April 3.
The extra step was outlined in the Charlotte Town Charter, adopted in 2016 and first effective in 2017, which mandates that the town’s municipal budget is discussed and presented at town meeting and then voted on by Australian ballot at a later date.
Voters will decide on this year’s budget, in the amount of $3,145,965, for the town’s annual expenses. Two other questions on the April 3 ballot ask voters to consider purchasing generators for the Charlotte Senior Center and Town Hall and capital improvement money for the Recreation Reserve Fund.
The goal of the Town Charter was to increase participation in deciding the town budget. In previous years, residents had expressed concern that deciding town spending issues in person on Town Meeting Day excluded many voters who couldn’t be present at the meeting because of work, school or family obligations.
Last year, the first that used the April vote, resulted in 365 fewer ballots cast in April than on Town Meeting Day.
This year, 640 people voted by Australian ballot on March 6 and around 130 attended town meeting.
Selectboard Chair Lane Morrison said that voter turnout is critical to ascertain the effectiveness of the Town Charter. “It’s important to see a good turnout April 3 for voting, and if there’s a good turnout I’d say it’s working, and if there’s not a good turnout, it’s not working as well as we had hoped.”
The measure isn’t solely the number of votes in April, Morrison explained. “The charter gives everyone an opportunity to vote who might not be able to attend town meeting,” he said.
In a letter to The Citizen in April last year after the special meeting vote, Town Clerk Mary Mead wrote: “The first Tuesday in March is the day people expect to be voting. It is the day you will get the highest possible number of people to come out and vote—that one day. The more spread-out the process becomes, the less participation you will have. But, for now, we have a Charter.”
Morrison said the Charter has a provision that after three voting cycles using this approach, the process will be reevaluated. “If it works, the charter will be renewed,” he said.
Voting Tuesday is 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Charlotte Central School in the multi-purpose room. Town officials will host an informational meeting Monday night at 7 p.m. at the Charlotte Town Hall.