Charlotte OKs town spending from the floor

Photo by Madeline Hughes
Alex Wannop, 3, came to Charlotte Central School to vote with his mom. As she votes in the booth, he watches the selectboard conduct Town Meeting business.

Staff Reporter

For a second year, the town of Charlotte defeated by voice vote a Town Meeting Day amendment from town clerk and treasurer Mary Mead to decrease the Charlotte Selectboard’s proposed budget.

During the Town Meeting Day portion of the election proceedings, Mead proposed cutting $157,500 from the $3,264,779 proposed budget. Last year, she had proposed cutting $100,000 from the budget and had said that the selectboard should find what areas to cut.

This year she came with specifics about what should be cut from the selectboard’s proposed budget.

The categories that Mead said should be cut were $70,000 from the fire and rescue capital fund, $53,000 from the fire and rescue operating budget, $25,000 from the selectboard legal fees, $2,500 from the planning consulting budget, $3,000 from donations, and $4,000 from the energy committee.

“Reducing the (fire and rescue) capital fund appropriation to $30,000 from $100,000 provides enough money to pay the bond payments,” said Mead.

Members of the selectboard Lane Morrison and Matt Krasnow responded to a question from the floor about whether Mead had raised her concerns before Town Meeting Day, affirming that she had brought her concerns before the selectboard during the budgeting process.

The budget was approved by voice vote from the floor on Tuesday, but will get a final vote by Australian ballot on April 9. It will be the only item on that ballot. Charlotte is in the third-year of a trial initiative and next year will be the final year of this system, said retiring selectboard chair Morrison. The move to extend the April vote would have had to pass at this year’s Town Meeting and then been approved by the Legislature because it requires a change to the town charter. There is not enough time to do that now, Morrison said.

The move to having one final Australian ballot on the budget following the vote from the floor on Town Meeting Day came with a charter amendment that the town passed and the Vermont General Assembly approved in 2016. The intent was to increase involvement in the process.

There were roughly 100 people at Town Meeting on Tuesday and those people “are approving the budget for the whole town,” Morrison said.

“We wanted to maintain Town Meeting, so the purpose (of the charter amendment) was to get 1,000 to 2,000 of our voters to vote on the budget,” he explained. “Even though there’s only 300-500 people, it’s still means more people are participating in the decision.”

The Australian ballot voting on Tuesday resulted in voters approving articles for a $700,000 bond to build an addition to the Charlotte library and for a $275,000 bond to buy a new ambulance for Charlotte Fire and Rescue.

The library addition bond passed 659-203, and the ambulance bond was approved by a vote of 629-236.

Roughly 26 percent of voters of the 870 voters registered voters in Charlotte cast ballots on Tuesday.

Other results from the Australian ballot included Frank Tenney being re-elected to a two-year term on the selectboard, defeating challenger Nancy Richardson, 440-358.

In a close race for the three-year term on the selectboard, Louise McCarren won the seat with 332 votes over Dr. James M. Faulkner (313 votes) and Ed Stone (174 votes).

Other action from the floor Monday night:

• An amendment was defeated that would have moved $5,000 budgeted for the trails reserve fund to increase the brush/tree remove fund from $95,000 to $100,000. In the selectboard’s proposed budget they had already increased the brush/tree remove budget by $20,000 from last year’s $75,000, said Morrison.

The increase in the brush/tree remove fund is to remove trees infected by the emerald ash borer.

Charlotte Tree Warden Mark Dillenbeck gave a presentation about the beetle, which is killing ash trees. It has been found in three places in Vermont but not yet in Charlotte.

The emerald ash borer is an invasive exotic pest from China and Siberia that was discovered in 2002. The mortality rate for infected trees is almost 100 percent, Dillenbeck said.

He shared a quote from Vermont’s forest health program manager, “There’s not a cause for a lot of optimism. We will have a lot of dead trees.”

Although the ash borer doesn’t move very fast, it’s spreading quickly. That’s because it’s being carried in lumber, Dillenbeck said, primarily firewood. He urged residents not to use firewood from outside the Charlotte area.

• Catherine Bock introduced a resolution that would urge the state to “halt any new or expanded fossil fuel infrastructure, i.e. transmission pipelines, electrical generation plants and/or industrial storage facilities.”

The resolution passed by voice vote.

• Valerie Graham spoke from the floor about her belief that Charlotte should adopt instant runoff voting. She pointed out that one of there are three candidates for one of the contested seats on the Charlotte Selectboard. She said that it is almost certain that none of the candidates will be elected by a 50 percent majority.

“Instant runoff voting is almost the only way that you’re going to get to 50 percent majority voting,” Graham said.

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