Town Meeting

Irasburg Town Meeting

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Town keeps three-member select board

by Trisha Ingalls

IRASBURG — About 120 people packed into the upstairs of the Irasburg Town Hall Tuesday night for Town Meeting.  Due to the concurrent presidential primary election, there was no soup dinner to be had this year.

Instead, Representative Mark Higley of Lowell, who represents Irasburg along with Representative Michael Marcotte, stood to address what was top of mind for many:  high taxes.  Mr. Higley said universal school meals, high health care costs, inflation, student weighting changes, and retaining staff originally hired using American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money are all contributing to the high school tax rates being seen around the state.

He went on to say increased fees on things like drivers’ licenses and professional licenses are affecting affordability for Vermonters, and lawmakers need to start considering the cumulative effect of what’s happening in Montpelier on ordinary people.  Mr. Higley also mentioned the increase in violent crime, including in Orleans County, and said there is a backlog of over 14,000 cases in the Vermont judicial system.

Ron Holland was elected as per usual to be the town’s moderator, and he headed straight into the issue of moving from a three-person to a five-person select board.

Resident Jennifer Edlund stood to say she was a proponent of putting the question on the Town Meeting warning.  She said she thinks the current select board is doing a good job, but it would be a good thing to have more members so that two of them could, for example, go out to look at a road in need of repair without it constituting a quorum that would need to be warned ahead of time.

Someone asked lone remaining select board member Dave Lahar what he thought of the idea. Mr. Lahar is the current chair.  Former select board member Michael Booth resigned from his position at the beginning of 2024 due to family and work commitments, and the third select board member Mark Collette’s term expired Tuesday night.

Mr. Lahar said even though it’s true that a five-member board would allow for more than one member to go out and look at a problem and even discuss it, he said he doesn’t want those conversations to happen, because all select board business should happen in front of voters in a public meeting.

Mr. Collette said it is already challenging to communicate between three members while adhering to open meeting laws, and with five members it will be much more difficult.  He also expressed concern about finding enough people to serve, saying there is not much volunteerism in the community.

“It’s the exception, not the rule anymore,” Mr. Collette said.

When the time for a vote came, 21 people voted in favor, but the rest voted against, keeping the Irasburg select board at three people.

As it turned out, Mr. Collette’s concerns about finding enough people to serve on the board were unfounded.  Seven people were nominated from the floor to fill the two open seats.  Three of them withdrew, resulting in a paper ballot contest between Michael Prue, Paul Forsay, Patrick Cartee, and Jennifer Edlund.  After the vote, Mr. Prue was elected for a three-year term and Mr. Cartee was elected for a one-year term.

For the first time in several years, Town Clerk and Treasurer Danielle Ingalls had competition for her position.  Eric Voeghtlin was nominated from the floor.  Ms. Ingalls said she has been serving Irasburg for 17 years, and that it has been a joy for her.  She cautioned the residents in attendance that it will be a busy year, with elections, a town-wide reappraisal, and closing out a FEMA grant following last year’s floods.  She said she would be concerned about bringing someone with no experience into the position at this time.

Mr. Voeghtlin said he has lived in Irasburg since 2019, and spent 21 years in the U.S. Coast Guard.  He has been a law enforcement trainer, and a zoning administrator in the towns of Barton, Newport, and Lyndon.  He said he has never been a town clerk but is up to the challenge.

Kyle Ingalls asked Mr. Voeghtlin questions about the role, which Mr. Voeghtlin declined to answer.  Mr. Ingalls pointed out that the position takes effect as soon as the candidate is elected, and would therefore have to oversee the end of the presidential primary, count votes, and send them to wherever they need to be sent.  Mr. Voeghtlin said he would need training to know how to do that.

Several people spoke in support of Ms. Ingalls, noting her integrity, experience, disposition, and her record of having two consecutive independent audits with no findings.  One person stood and accused Ms. Ingalls of forging a signature, which Ms. Ingalls denied.

The vote resulted in a win for Ms. Ingalls and another term as clerk and treasurer.

Judith Jackson, chair of the town planning commission, gave an update on the University of Irasburg coming in April, and also said the town will be seeking a planning grant to address speed and safety in the designated village center, around the common.

Following a presentation of the budget by Mr. Lahar, and some discussion about the hours being spent in Irasburg by the Orleans County Sherriff, the rest of the articles and the town’s operating budget all passed without incident.

 

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