Voters passed Article 18, to raise $65,000 for the Dover Legal Defense Fund without any dissent. The only controversy was over the best use of the money.
Selectboard member William “Buzzy” Buswell reminded voters that the fund had been set up more than a decade ago, after he made a Town Meeting motion to establish a fund for fighting Act 60. Since then, the fund has often been referred to as the “Buzzy Fund.” Most recently, the fund has been used to hire a lobbyist to advocate for changes to Act 68. “We’ve used it in a variety of ways in years gone by,” Buswell said. “What it will be used for (now) will be decided by the people and the board of selectmen, so we can continue our efforts in our battle against Act 68.”
School board member Laura Sibilia, who has been working with KSE Partners, the lobbying firm, said the lobbying firm had been successful in getting legislation passed that created a legislative summer study committee. “The report that came out of the committee was very lengthy, and we were disappointed by how broad it was,” she said. “But it concluded that Vermont cannot show that it is providing equity. Dover is collecting $13 million in education property taxes, and we know what we’re spending on education, but we don’t know what the other $10 million we’re sending to the state is buying and what kids are getting. I think Dover has good outcomes for the dollars we’re spending, but we can’t show that at the state level.”
Sibilia said that $1 billion, the amount of annual education funding at the state level, is unaccounted for annually. Sibilia said the town’s efforts were getting “traction” with the leadership of key legislative committees. Sibilia said working with a lobbyist gave the town the ability to monitor the Legislature for discussions and bills that impact the town directly. “If something pops up in a committee and they’re going to have a hearing, we know about it, which has happened. And if we’re not there, or even if we are, our lobbyist will go.”
“I know two things,” added selectboard member Tom Baltrus. “If you want to effect change, don’t take your foot off the gas. Don’t stop. And the other thing is, you need to be in their face every day.”
Buswell said Dover had to decide whether to continue with the lobbying effort, given that bills introduced during the upcoming legislative session would probably not reappear any time after the end of the session. “At the end of the year all the bills will probably be dead because it’s the end of the biennium. So we have to decide whether the best road to go down is the lobbyist, or whether there’s another road to a stabilized tax rate. That’s why we’re asking you to replenish the fund with $65,000.”
Voters also raised $3,300 to help fund the efforts of Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies (SeVEDS), a group affiliated with the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation. Sibilia, who works with SeVEDS as BDCC’s director of economic development, said the money would help leverage $25,000 in additional funds from the town of Brattleboro, to support their economic development efforts.
Sibilia said SeVEDS is working on a “comprehensive economic development strategy” (CEDS) plan for which they received a federal grant. Once the plan is in place, the group will qualify for additional federal funding. She said SeVEDS plans additional focus on workforce development. “We have employers who need and want to grow, but they can’t find the employees with the skills they need,” she said. “And we know we have employees who need jobs.”
“We’re spending our economic development money mainly on infrastructure and events that bring people into town to spend money at our businesses,” said selectboard member Randy Terk. “This is a broader approach. This is looking at Windham County, and it’s different than what we’re looking at in Dover.”
The article passed on a voice vote.With little discussion, voters also approved a general fund budget of $1,983,115.07, highway expenditures of $1,201,248.50, and raised $400,000 for the town’s paving fund, $200,000 for the equipment fund, and $100,000 for the building fund. In the town’s only contested race Tuesday, selectboard member William “Buzzy” Buswell lost his bid for reelection to challenger Joseph Mahon. Buswell received 121 votes, Mahon received 136.