Town Meeting Overview

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(Host) Many communities across the state are holding their town meeting today. Voter turnout reportedly is very good in towns that have spirited contests for local races. Debate over rising school budgets is also a hot issue today.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) The issues being debated on town meeting day are as varied as the towns that are considering them.

Bennington voters are reviewing a plan to light their historical Battle Monument, in Whitingham voters are trying to figure out how to deal with a $400,000 budget deficit and many towns are closely examining their school budgets and their spending plans for local highway programs.

Secretary of State Deb Markowitz predicts that voter turnout, on average, will be between 25-30% in most towns. Markowitz says communities with contested local elections and controversial school budgets could see their turnout approach 50%:

(Markowitz) "The issues that are before many towns are budget or money issues. As the state is cutting back on its grants to towns for road and bridges, and as the grants for students as part of the Act 60 school finance program is staying the same, our communities are having to make very difficult budget choices. Do they cut back, or do they increase the taxes? And that, in some communities, is very meaningful and will result in a turnout."

(Kinzel) School officials in a number of communities find themselves in a very difficult position this year. Their school budgets are increasing at a modest level but their tax rate is rising much faster.

This is happening because student enrollment is down, property values are increasing and because the governor has proposed level funding the student block grant of Act 60. Montpelier is a good example of this. The proposed school budget includes a 2.5% increase but it will take a 10 % increase in the tax rate to finance the budget.

School board chairwoman Cindy Koenemann-Warren says the school board will face some very tough choices if voters reject the budget:

(Koenemann-Warren) "There is a $300,000 surplus, which we’ve chosen at this point to put towards capital improvements ¿ one time expenditures. We’d have to look at that choice. We’d also need to probably very seriously start discussing some program cuts, such things as busing for our elementary school, our all-day kindergarten program, co-curriculars, the number of teachers we have at each school ¿ those kinds of tough decisions."

(Kinzel) A plan to support instant runoff voting is being considered in about 50 communities today. According to the League of Women Voters, a group that backs the measure, at this time voters in twelve towns have given their strong approval to the idea. No communities have rejected the proposal.

For Vermont Public Radio I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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