Much of the work town officials need to do has already taken place: budgets have been finalized, articles written and warned, and town reports sent to printers. For many officials, the next big step is preparing for Town Meeting day and making sure they will have answers for voters’ questions.
On the other hand, in many ways the work for voters is just beginning. They need to learn about the issues they will be asked to weigh in on. Some of those are standard Town Meeting fare: budgets, election of town officials, grants to local organizations, and the like.
But there are certain issues which will require some serious consideration by voters. Many of the big issues appear to be on the school side of the warnings. School budgets are often heavily scrutinized. This could certainly be the case in Wilmington and Whitingham this year. Voters there will have to make a difficult decision whether or not to approve a stripped down Twin Valley school budget. Even though it will pare services to the bone, if approved voters will be handing themselves hefty tax increases. As we’ve reported, those increases will be mostly caused by factors out of local school boards’ control.
Aside from budgets, some towns will be considering Act 46 school consolidation plans. Voters in Wardsboro, Dover, and Marlboro will have to decide whether or not to merge into one school district. It’s a weighty decision, to be sure, and one that has been essentially forced on those communities by the 2015 law. The balance of the Windham Central Supervisory Union towns, Jamaica, Windham, Townshend, Newfane, and Brookline, will also vote on a consolidation plan. None of those will be easy decisions. If the mergers are approved, the traditional town school district in those communities will be phased out over the next two years and replaced by larger, multitown districts.
Looking at the town side of local meetings, Wilmington has perhaps the most interesting article on any set of warnings. Article 6 ask voters to consider whether or not to vote all items at Town Meeting by Australian ballot.
We understand the idea behind it: by placing all the items into an Australian ballot format, voters who have issues taking off work on a Tuesday to attend Town Meeting can have most of the day to cast a vote on the items. In theory, instead of voters having to be present for a floor discussion and vote anywhere between 10 am and the end of the meeting, they can have their say as their schedule allows.
We certainly support the idea behind the article, that of increased voter participation. It just seems there could have been some middle ground for supporters of Article 6 to find before reaching for this nuclear option, which will essentially kill off Town Meeting in Wilmington.
Why not ask voters to consider moving Town Meeting to a late afternoon or early evening start? Other towns, like Readsboro and Searsburg, hold evening meetings. Some, like Wardsboro, hold hybrid meetings, with their school district meeting the evening before a traditional Town Meeting.
The problem is, they won’t really get to have their say. By moving to an Australian ballot format, the chance for discussion, debate, and amendments to articles is removed. That strikes us as an extreme move, one we’re not sure the electorate is really clamoring for.
Again, we appreciate the underlying rationale of trying to get more voters to partake in the process. It just seems like the cure might be worse than the cold.
However individuals feel about these and other issues facing local towns, the bottom line is that unless they vote at Town Meeting, they aren’t really voicing their opinion in a meaningful way.