BRATTLEBORO -- A Representative Town Meeting vote to support a proposed $14-million upgrade to the police and fire stations will likely stand, after critics of the vote failed to gather the number of signatures needed to force a townwide referendum on the bond.
Following the Oct. 20 special meeting, opponents of the vote had until 5 p.m. Tuesday to collect 435 signatures, which would have given every registered voter in Brattleboro a chance to weigh in on the 20-year bond, which is expected to increase the tax rate by about 10 cents.
Brattleboro resident and Town Meeting Representative Kurt Daims showed up at Town Hall just before 5 p.m., out of breath, but also about 100 signatures shy of the total needed to force a vote.
He also could have asked for a new vote with the signatures of 50 town meeting representatives, but only collected about 20 or 30, he said.
Town Clerk Annette Cappy accepted the petitions, and she and her staff counted 334 signatures. But she said she is not even going to check them against the voting list because Daims only had about three-quarters of the signatures needed.
"He didn't make it," Cappy said. "There is no point matching it against the check list."
Daims spent the past 10 days gathering signatures in the street and also trying to drum up support through e-mail and over the Internet.
He wants one more day to collect signatures because he argues that with Monday being declared a state of emergency, and with Town Hall being closed for the afternoon due to Hurricane Sandy, he should get one more day.
Cappy disagreed, and while she said it would not be up to her, she said Daims had 10 days from the vote, regardless of whether a natural disaster falls within those 10 days.
"I spoke to a lot of people over the past 10 days, and I heard a lot of complaints about the process," said Daims. "I think the Selectboard would appreciate the chance to do this again."
With the 10-day period now over, the town will be able to begin the bid process and start looking for designers and builders for the renovations to the police and fire stations.
The petition drive that Daims lead was the first since the Legislature approved the sweeping charter changes that the town approved last year. Under the new charter, a citizen has 10 days to gather 435 signatures, or 5 percent of the registered voters, to overturn a representative town meeting vote and force a townwide referendum.
A referendum can also be forced with the signatures of 50 town meeting representatives.
The old charter required 250 votes and gave the petition advocates five days to gather the necessary signatures.
Spoon Agave, a member of the Charter Change Committee, which worked on the changes for three-and-a-half years, said the new totals were developed as a compromise between committee members who wanted to make it a little harder to overturn a representative town meeting decision and those who supported the right of Brattleboro citizens to put a question before all of the voters in town.
"We thought we would strike a balance by requiring more signatures, but giving people more time to gather those signatures," Agave said.
The 250 signatures that were required to overturn a vote seems to go back in the town's history and is not based on any specific benchmark.
In many other municipalities, signatures from 5 percent of the registered voters is needed to ask for a new vote and Agave said the committee wanted to tie Brattleboro's referendum policy to that.
Howard Weiss-Tisman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 802-254-2311 ext. 279.