School budgets passed with little or no rancor, some even had additional monies added to them. That in itself is enough to raise the eyebrows of longtime Town Meeting attendees. Dover voted in extra money to equalize the amount of tuition it will pay families who elect to send their secondary-aged children to an independent school. Halifax added a few dollars to the school budget to add some enrichment programs. In Wilmington and Whitingham, Twin Valley school budgets were passed not once, but twice.
Halifax also voted down an article to expand the selectboard from three to five members. We were a little taken aback by that. It seems that a five-member board gives members a more diverse set of opinions, which in our estimation is always a good thing. It also takes away the potential for an unwarned meeting anytime two board members get together in public, whether for a quick chat at the post office or sitting next to each other at a school concert or basketball game. Another thing that a five-member board does is allow the workload to be spread out. Even though most town board members receive a small stipend, the work is essentially done on a volunteer basis, and many hands make for light work. Our guess is that Halifax voters will see this article again in the near future.
Overall, though, many new faces will be turning up on many town boards, while returning board members may be taking on new responsibilities. We remind all that most local government board members serve as de-facto volunteers, and as such deserve to be treated with respect, even when a resident may disagree with a decision.
With Tuesday firmly in the rearview mirror, the hard work of local government begins again in earnest for another year. There will be myriad challenges and opportunities faced by local boards. There are still many ongoing issues as the region rebuilds from Tropical Storm Irene. There are economic development needs, whether creating jobs, improving infrastructure or assisting private enterprise. There are the challenges of increasingly complex state and federal laws and guidelines to follow. And there are countless other issues faced by local government, all which will require common sense, fairness, and openness.
As we move forward from Town Meeting, we wish all town officials the best of luck in the coming year. And we encourage anyone who has a question or concern about how their town operates to attend meetings, learn about the issues, and offer not only their opinion but their assistance.
After all, public involvement is not only what makes Vermont’s Town Meeting unique, it’s also what makes our towns function the rest of the year.