Controversy draws large attendance as Salisbury meeting

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(Host) The lights were on in many Vermont schools and town halls Monday night as communities held their annual town meetings. Voters in the Addison County town of Salisbury spent more than four hours discussing budgets and town meeting articles.

VPR’s Steve Zind reports.

(Zind) While a group of sixth graders provided babysitting service in a nearby classroom, Salisbury voters convened in the elementary school gym last night for a marathon session. With more than 200 in attendance, town officials said turnout was several times the average.

(Moderator) “Alright, good evening. Welcome to the school board part of this town meeting.”

(Zind) A number of issues brought people out with their pencils and town reports. Although Salisbury’s school tax rate has declined this year, voters said they were uncertain about future taxes, and wary of a per pupil spending level that is well over the state average. They rejected a motion to increase the budget to restore one teacher’s position.

After the school budget, it was on to a more contentious discussion of the town budget. Recent well-publicized book keeping mix-ups in Salisbury have created confusion about how money has been spent.

(Voter) “I’d like to see an audit for the last five years of all the financial records of the town.”

(Zind) Voters will go to the polls on Tuesday to decide the fate of the municipal budget.

While some of Salisbury’s problems may be unique, others are common – like the difficulty in filling town offices. There are no takers for the three auditors seats on the ballot and the only candidate for treasurer has withdrawn her name.

And there are signs the town is experiencing some growing pains. Select board members say they’re overworked and they’ve included money in the new budget for a part time administrator.

But if some things are changing, voters also made it clear they others to stay the same. Some of the most impassioned discussion came over an article to decide the school budget by Australian Ballot, instead of at town meeting.

(Voter) “So I think it’s imperative that we keep this format so people can come and hear what they’re going to vote on. Because if they’re going to vote it tomorrow and don’t know what they’re voting on, do you really want them to vote on your town budget, on your school budget?”

(Zind) In a lopsided tally, voters decided to continue deciding school budgets at town meeting.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Steve Zind in Salisbury.

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