Tradition or innovation?
Editor: I encourage everyone to attend Town Meeting this year, as it may be the last time that you can experience the rare opportunity to be a decisive part of direct democracy. You can read the Town Report, study the Selectboard budget, consult with your neighbors, debate it on the floor, make amendments and vote on the conclusion affecting the governing and municipal taxes of our town for the next fiscal year. We are so fortunate to be part of this Vermont tradition of citizenship. Very few states, and certainly very few countries, offer this power to its voters.
At the same time, we will take our ballots into the voting booth and determine if this tradition will change. With the Article 9 Municipal Charter ballot, we will decide if this Town Meeting exercise will be amended, making that conclusive vote at Town Meeting no longer conclusive. Instead, the Selectboard would then present that result three or four weeks later to all the voters of the town as an Australian ballot item.
This innovative approach has not been tried in any other town in Vermont. It is driven by the fear that someday the traditional Town Meeting will be replaced by Australian ballot only, so that everyone in town will have the opportunity to vote on the Selectboard budget. That has already happened with the school budget, which has led to the demise of anything resembling a meaningful Town Meeting experience on education spending.
Our school taxes represent 90% of our property taxes, and I can understand why everyone must be able to vote on that level of spending. But for municipal taxes, representing 10% of our tax bill, is it necessary to weaken our traditional Town Meeting experience? Every voter in town has the right to attend Town Meeting, an experience that I promise is worth the effort.
The power of ordinance
Editor: A recent commentary by Ed Amidon in The Charlotte News asked the question: What is a “reasonable compromise?”— the siting of solar arrays and wind turbines being the topics of concern.
The public is very vulnerable to being pushed to accept a compromise that produces an outcome contrary to what one can comfortably live with. A group of New Hampshire citizens observed that the system of site approval for wind turbines and solar arrays gave little assurance that their expectations of having a forceful voice in the proceedings would be honored. What did they do when confronted with this potentially undesirable outcome?
This group contacted the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), an organization headquartered in Pennsylvania that has written ordinances that give communities the power to establish ground rules for siting these wind and solar developments. This is a viable option and a giant step away from the hopes of accepting a “reasonable compromise.”I highly recommend that this option be considered. You will find more details on the Internet at celdf.org. I used the services of this organization when I was a resident of Pennsylvania and found their assistance was outstanding in producing a favorable outcome to my concerns.
Vote yes on the land use articles on the Town Meeting ballot
Editor: Creating vitality in today’s historic Vermont villages—the kind of small-scale development that draws residents of all types to work, socialize, buy goods, and enjoy services—is a complex puzzle. With appropriately scaled economic growth often passing our villages by, vitality doesn’t happen by accident. The menu of items needed to generate activity in our villages includes friendly zoning regulations, specific town plan language, favorable market conditions, energetic volunteers and forward-thinking town leadership.
One small piece of the puzzle involves getting a “Village Designation” from the State of Vermont Department of Housing and Community Development. A “Village Designation” would enable us to receive priority consideration for important grant programs and allow builders to take advantage of a number of tax credits for rehabilitation of historic structures. To this end, vote YES on Town Meeting Day on Article 10 which will allow for integration of the specific language into the Charlotte Town Plan necessary to receive this designation.
And while you are at it, vote YES on Articles l1 and 12. They will allow placement of language in the Town Plan and Land Use Regulations to help us achieve more thoughtful siting and screening of renewable energy projects.
Town Meeting and charter vote
Editor: We will be voting on a Town Charter for the first time, by Australian ballot, on Town Meeting Day. What does that mean? If approved by the Town (and then by the Legislature), what this would mean is that on Town Meeting Day we would vote by Australian ballot the CVU and CCS budgets and the Town and School Officers, just like we do now. We would discuss the Town budget and have the ability to amend that Town budget by the group of people in attendance on that Town Meeting Day, just like we do now. However, the actual vote on that budget would not be on Town Meeting Day. The Selectboard would then schedule the day to vote on that town budget by Australian ballot sometime 3-4 weeks out from Town Meeting Day—most likely April sometime. The date is not something that has been set as an actual date. The language in the Charter states “The date of the vote shall be at least 20 days following the posting of the warning.”So, we will be voting by Australian ballot in March for school budgets and again in April for the Town budget. What if budgets don’t get passed? This past year, the CCS budget was voted down in March and had to be revised and voted on again in April.
Every year, voting by absentee ballot gets more and more popular. The challenge is always sending those absentees out of state and out of country in enough time for the voter to receive the ballot and return them to us.
It’s important to listen to the majority—what does the Town want? Is it the ability to vote our Town budget by Australian ballot just like the school budgets? The Town could decide to vote our Town budget by Australian ballot, without a Charter and there would no longer be a traditional “Town Meeting.” Do you want one local election day in March to vote and decide all of our budgets or would you rather vote in March and April, splitting up the town and school budgets? This vote is important for everyone, think about what you want. I will be supporting the majority vote.
Please approve Article 9
Editor: A few well-informed and responsible citizens in our town have taken it upon themselves to deal with the modern-day challenge of not being able to attend Town Meeting. These citizens are proposing a Charter to make a simple change that will allow more tax payers to approve or reject the annual town budget.
As in the past the town budget will be presented, discussed and amended as voted on at Town Meeting. This valuable exercise remains unchanged. The budget approved by the voters present at Town Meeting will then be subjected to a town-wide Australian ballot to allow all registered voters to have a say. This seems like a fair and sensible solution to address the relatively small number of people at Town Meeting (as a percentage of all voters). Importantly, it still allows those who can attend to participate in the budget process.
I urge everyone to approve Article 9 in order to implement this change. It is truly a case of having one’s cake and eating it too! Let’s get this done without further delay.
Vote yes on article 10
Editor: The Warning Notice printed on page 10 in the last Charlotte News lists the articles whose fate will be decided on the floor and in voting booths on Town Meeting Day, Tuesday, March 1. The articles can also be found in the Town Report you should have received by now, beginning on page 13.
A YES vote for Article 10 would include a statement in our Town Plan in support of an application to the state for “Village Designation” in our East and West Villages. If, upon approval of Article 10, our application to the state is accepted, the results are priority status for grants and tax benefits to property owners for improvements to their commercial buildings. It is a completely voluntary program that will not place restrictions on the town or property owners in the district. Details about the program can be found at this link: goo.gl/PSGGJG.
To get on the ballot this question was discussed and supported by your Planning Commission, your Town Planner and your Selectboard at multiple meetings, which included the general public.
Vote YES for Article 10. It is a small but meaningful step in support of Charlotte’s East and West Villages. Thank you.
Editor: I am writing to ask that Charlotte considers voting in favor of Article 9. This article is necessary to make needed changes in the structure of our town voting structure.
At present, the town budget is voted on only by those who are able to attend Town Meeting. Thus the budget is approved by a small percentage of Charlotters who may or may not be representative of our community.
On the occasions I have been able to participate, I have found Town Meeting to be a vibrant, interactive, important part of Charlotte life during which healthy debate and discussion between neighbors takes place. A change to a two-part structure, maintaining Town Meeting yet having final approval by vote (either in a booth or by absentee ballot) at a later date allows participation by those who would like a say in how our taxes are to be allocated, but are unable to be physically present at Town Meeting.
Thank you for your consideration of this issue.
Article 9 – Vote yes
Editor: I love Town Meeting. I love hearing opinions from many points of view. I often hear ideas that had not occurred to me. Sometimes they change my vote. When I’m unable to go to Town Meeting, I still want to have my say on acceptance of the Selectboard’s budget. The Charter will allow us to have our cake and eat it too—those of us who can’t get to Town Meeting will be able to vote on the budget —but only if we approve the Charter.
The ONLY effect of the Charter is to allow this innovative process: Town Meeting with its chance to discuss and amend the Selectoard’s budget, followed later by an Australian ballot vote open to all voters, in person or by absentee ballot. Please join me in voting YES on the Charter, Article 9.
Trapping our wildlife
Editor: The public has been misled to believe that trapping isπ a necessary wildlife management tool. This claim is not supported by any hard, scientific data; if anything, the data available points to the opposite conclusion. State agencies, including the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department, promote trapping since wildlife departments are largely funded by trapping licensing fees and federal grants. Follow the money trail.
Traps are indiscriminate in the animals they trap. It is estimated that at least two “non-target” animals are trapped for every animal species actually targeted. Moreover, traps are just as likely to capture healthy, young and productive animals, as diseased or mature ones. Therefore, trapping cannot target certain animals in order to “manage” a population. Since the VT Fish & Wildlife Department relies on self-reporting by trappers, trapping cannot even provide reliable figures on animals killed on which to base sound management decisions.
Leghold traps, commonly used in Vermont, are a particularly cruel way to trap an animal. These traps are not designed to kill, but rather, to forcefully immobilize an animal until the trapper returns to either shoot, bludgeon or suffocate the animal. Many non-target species are caught in leghold traps, including birds of prey such as owls and Vermont endangered animals like the American marten. Since trappers are only required to check traps every 24 hours, the animals suffer for hours on end, often with injuries and exposed to weather extremes, before being killed and skinned for their fur. Leghold traps set underwater kill the animals by drowning, which can take up to 20 minutes for beavers.
Trapping poses additional harm when undertaken on public lands, which are accessed by a wide sector of the public, accompanied by their pets. This is why an initiative in Montana proposes to ban trapping on all of its public lands, despite the presence of a strong hunting and trapping culture there.Vermont should do the same.
Director of Protect Our Wildlife