Town Meeting

Craftsbury Town Meeting

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Long meeting covers much ground

by Gina Campoli

 

CRAFTSBURY COMMON — Democracy in Craftsbury was an endurance event Tuesday.  Town Meeting 2024 began at 9 a.m. with the school meeting that ended at 11:15 a.m.  After a 15-minute break, the municipal portion of the meeting commenced.  It ended at 3:30 p.m.  Nearly six and half straight hours were spent in lively conversation.

At its peak nearly 200 voters participated — an almost doubling of last year’s numbers.

There were several important topics that helped attract participants.

Last year the town, led by select board member Susie Houston, initiated an effort dubbed Freedom and Unity in order to boost civic knowledge and public engagement in local decision-making.  A committee was formed after last year’s Twn Meeting — the Freedom and Unity Task Force — and grant funds were obtained to support public outreach and discussion.   This resulted in a big push to promote Town Meeting through social media and other sources and improve accessibility.  There were plenty of microphones, seats up front for those hard of hearing, free babysitting, printed materials on Roberts Rules and even free chocolate for all.

The chocolate was much appreciated because the lunch and snacks ran out before noon due to the unexpected numbers.  This did not however slow down democracy in action.

The Craftsbury school meeting included Michelle Warren being re-elected as district treasurer and clerk.  Isaac Jacobs was elected to replace Jared Nunery who chose not to run for his three-year school director position and Michelle Menard was re-elected to a two-year term.

For almost two hours voters wrestled with a proposed amendment from the school board presented by Chair Kasey Allen to decrease the warned school budget due in large part to shifting policies at the state level.  On the plus side the Act 127 equalized pupil weighting changed the funding formula so that more money was made available to cover the increased costs of serving rural, low income children and those with special needs, but this was overshadowed by the Legislature’s recent lifting of the 5 percent cap on the homestead property rate and the state-determined Common Level of Appraisal.  Both were not in Craftsbury’s favor and resulted in unacceptable increases to the town’s portion of the school tax rate.

The school board ended up rescinding several of the initially proposed increases including expanding the pre-K program to five days a week, increasing athletic and other programs and putting dollars into the building capital fund to address roofing and other deferred maintenance needs.  They retained 3.6 full-time equivalent intervention specialists in math and reading that were started with federal grants that are no longer available. Local resident Carolyn Ryan questioned this expense. After much discussion her amendment to further reduce the budget did not pass and voters approved the amended budget of over $5.3-million for the town’s K-12 school system by a 132 to 41 margin.

The issues were complex and fraught with questions and concerns.  Annie Houston, a Craftsbury Academy graduate and now the finance director at Orleans Southwest Supervisory Union, did an excellent job explaining the whys and wherefores of school finance and the Town Meeting participants were civil and understanding throughout.

Representative Katherine Sims of Craftsbury arrived at noon and explained her priorities including regulatory reform and funding to address housing shortages.  She announced that the state budget adjustment act includes funding for towns to help defray the costs of last July’s storm.  The town will receive $87,000 of state funds to be used to match FEMA funds for storm-related road and bridge repairs.

The municipal meeting included a farewell to select board member Susie Houston who is stepping town after 18 years on the board. Bruce Urie, select board chair, described Ms. Houston’s uncanny ability to “strong arm” an army of volunteers to fill the town’s numerous boards and commissions.  Alison Blaney defeated Lucas Schulz to take Ms. Houston’s seat on the board 88 to 68. The town budget sailed through by 107 to 7.

All requests for town appropriations were approved with little fanfare with the exception of support for Craftsbury Saplings, the town’s nonprofit day care and pre-school program.  An amendment to reduce the requested amount from $6,000 to  $1,400 was defeated 29 to 86.  The $6,000 was approved on a voice vote after 30 minutes of discussion.

The final action of the day prompted the greatest discussion by the fewest number of voters.  There was an article put forth by the select board for the town to elect town officers by Australian ballot and retain Town Meeting for all other decision making.  Ms.Houston explained that this was not a recommendation of the Freedom and Unity Task Force.  For many, though, it was deemed necessary for those who can’t make it to an all-day Town Meeting and provide for them a voice in at least one aspect of town decision-making.  The article passed 60 to 29 with one amendment, the town moderator would be elected at the Town Meeting, not by Australian ballot.

 

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