I attended my first “real” Town Meeting today. It was the Newfane, VT Town Meeting, held at Williamsville Hall. Previously, I’ve been both a representative and a constituent in Brattleboro’s Representative Town Meeting system. This is the first time I could attend, or not, without needing to be elected first.
Williamsville Hall is right down the road, so I took advantage of the sunny day and walked. Along the way a neighbor caught up with me and we arrived together, went inside and found seats.
The hall has been recently renovated to have a new heating system, which was much appreciated by long-time Town Meeting attendees who could recall seeing their breath in previous years.
Town Meeting Moderator Deb Luskin kicked things off and kept the room on track and generally in order. (We got rowdy for a moment or two, it must be admitted.) Our agenda was pretty straightforward — 11 articles relating to taxes and paying for town business, and no special items that needed attention.
New members were asked to rise and be recognized. It was quite welcoming, and good to see that I was not alone. There were about eight of us attending for the first time.
The most notable matter of business was that we voted on an amendment offered by Dan DeWalt to reduce what the Town charges for late property taxes by half. We voted to drop the late charge for interest from 1% to .5% for the current fiscal year, and from 1.5% to .75% for each month thereafter until paid. (An 8% late penalty remains.)
We received updates on schools and mergers from members school principals Tabachnick and Thibault and learned of upcoming budget meetings and school lunches we ‘old folks’ could attend. We also transacted what might well be the final business of the Newfane School District. The West River Modified Union Education District is on the way.
Vermont State Representative Emily Long and Senator Becca Balint each gave updates on their work in Montpelier. They wanted people to know that, unlike previous years, the Governor’s office seems a bit more organized and willing to work on issues this year.
There were four articles about capital needs. This caused a bit of confusion for a short time as meeting members figured out the reason for each. One was the total amount authorized to spend, one was how much of it to raise from taxes, one was how much of it to borrow, and a final one was how much to put into reserves for future needs. (Not an article, but also important, was the amount already in reserves to be spent.)
During “other business” members made announcements and talked about ways people could get involved with various projects. Traffic calming, opioids, climate change, and recycling were on people’s minds this year.
There was also some interest in trying to figure out ways for more people to participate in Town Meeting. Should it move to a Saturday morning, or Monday night? Should there be ways for people to participate electronically? How will that work?
“Other business” is where another major difference with Representative Town Meeting was made clear. At the Newfane Town Meeting, there is no quorum requirement. No members can leave the room to deny a quorum, as has happened at RTM on a number of occasions, to shut down something they find disagreeable.
The final action of the day was after the meeting adjourned not long after noon. Everyone was welcomed downstairs for a meal. Amazing! A number of salads, bean dishes, pickles, meatballs, noodle dishes, casseroles, chili, breads, soups, cheese, and then a table of desserts filled with cookies, tarts, brownies, cheesecakes, and more. We sat, talked and ate. There were more announcements (talent show, dog show, more!).
I had a great time. Yeah, I’m a sucker for civics, but this was a pleasant day, people were friendly, and business was accomplished. Thanks, neighbors!