Town Meeting

Craftsbury Town Meeting

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Baked goods fuel cordial meeting

by Gina Campoli

CRAFTSBURY COMMON — By 9 a.m., the start time for this year’s Town Meeting, the 150 or so folding chairs set out in the Craftsbury Academy gym were about half occupied.  By 10 a.m., there were over 120 voters present.  According to some observers that is less than the 150 or so who usually showed up prior to COVID.  During the afternoon Craftsbury School District voting there were just over 50 participants.

Folks seemed to be glad to be meeting in person after the three-year COVID hiatus.

There were tasty baked goods and coffee available in support of the Craftsbury Academy’s 2023 prom, and academy students prepared a lunch of spaghetti with meat and vegetarian red sauce options, garlic bread, and grated parmesan cheese.

Town business filled the morning hours.  Select board member Susie Houston opened things up by recognizing the numerous individuals — almost all of whom are volunteers — who fill various town committee roles and their many contributions to the town.

Town Moderator Jeannine A. Young read key procedural guidance from Roberts Rules of Order for the voters.  She was re-elected on a voice-vote.

Cheryl Bailey, a town auditor, noted the dedication in this year’s town report to Barb Patterson, a long time town lister.  She explained that “lister is a task that doesn’t come with many rewards.  After all, who welcomes a call from the town lister?  Barb’s real estate assessments were always done in a fair and careful manner.”

While questions on most articles were frequent, almost everything passed by wide margins and all the town and school offices were filled by candidates who ran unopposed.  Both the town and school budgets passed by overwhelming numbers despite budget increases.  There were only 3 votes cast against the $572,830 needed for the town budget and only one lone vote against the $4,403,546 school budget.

The select board’s request to purchase a new grader, not to exceed $275,000 passed 91 to 8.  The fire department’s budget passed 105 to 3 and an appropriation of $10,000 for volunteer firefighter stipends passed without opposition in a voice vote.

The voters’ generosity extended to all funding requests from local committees and local and regional nonprofits that serve Craftsbury residents.  All requests were approved, for a total of $69,453.  In one instance voters gave more than the requested amount.  The Craftsbury Historical Society was awarded $500 instead of the $100 it requested.

In addition, voters approved $12,000 for the Craftsbury Community Care Center, $46,000 for the Craftsbury Public Library and $10,000 for repairs to historic cemetery fences and a cemetery access road.

Under article 3 the select board asked that the collector of delinquent taxes be appointed by the Board after a recruitment process instead of being a elected at Town Meeting.  After some discussion and the request for a paper ballot, the board’s proposal was approved 77 to 25.

Elected town officers include:

Jim Jones for another three-year term on the select board, Tom Boyle for a three-year lister term, Michael Waterhouse for a three-year auditor term, Bob Davis for a five-year term on the cemetery commission, Steve Moffat as Craftsbury Library Trustee for two years remaining of a four-year term, Penelope Doherty, as one of the supervisors of the Lamoille Solid Waste District for a two-year term, Rudy Chase as a trustee of public funds for a three-year term, Bruce Urie as a World War II Memorial Fund Trustee for a three-year term and Ross Davis filling the two years of a three-year term as a Memorial Fund Trustee.  Bruce Urie recognized long-time trustee the late Sonny Simmons who died last year.

School board members Kasey Allen and Cedar Hannan were both elected to two year and three year terms, respectively.

Article 16, asking voters if they would like to elect town officials by Australian ballot instead of at the annual meeting prompted considerable discussion.

Susie Houston explained that the article came after voters last year asked that the town look into conducting more of its business through Australian ballot.  She also explained that the Board will be convening a task force of volunteers this spring — dubbed Freedom and Unity — that will convene a public dialogue on strengthening democracy in Craftsbury including how to get more people involved and build “inclusive, deliberate, and empowered community engagement.”  She suggested that article 6 might be postponed until that work is done.

Several speakers described the dwindling numbers at Town Meeting and the challenges with attending for those that have to work.  Others asked that the town better use available technology to make sure those who can’t get to meetings can participate including Bru Mille who said, “We have the technology.  We need to expand the vote and include more people without eroding Craftsbury’s strong Town Meeting tradition.”

The voters appeared to agree with those who asked that the Freedom and Unity initiative do its work before moving to electing officials via Australian ballot.  Article 16 failed to pass, 52 to 36.

State Representative Katherine Sims, herself a Craftsbury resident, dropped by just before lunch and gave a brief State House report.  She said, “While there is a large budget surplus this year, it will end with federal stimulus funds and thus the need to look at programs that are fiscally sustainable.”

Her priorities include workforce development, childcare, paid family leave, school construction, and housing.  Representative Sims is a lead sponsor of a bill to create more middle income housing and she introduced bills to support emergency medical services and  the right to repair agricultural equipment now made difficult by lack of access to manufacturer diagnostic and other tools.

She has heard from constituents regarding S.5 the Affordable Heat Act, which just passed the Senate.  She said that, as written, it creates a market that favors more affordable and price-stable and less-polluting home heating alternatives.  She has concerns about the impacts to low and moderate income Vermonters.   The Senate required that the Public Utilities Commission undertake a detailed cost accounting of the proposed standard and this analysis must come back to the Legislature in 2025 when a vote will determine if the Clean Heat Standard should take effect.

The Craftsbury School District meeting commenced at 1 p.m.  Besides approving the budget with only one no vote, voters asked the school board to pay the school district clerk $1,000.  That job had been unpaid.  Town residents also agreed to put $115,088 into a reserve fund for building maintenance and repairs.

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