Vernon Town Meeting, March 2014. (Mike Faher/Reformer file photo)
Vernon Town Meeting, March 2014. (Mike Faher/Reformer file photo)

VERNON -- When Vernon hosts a special Town Meeting on May 5, attendees likely will endure lengthy debate and complex amendments regarding next fiscal year's budget.

But at least they'll be able to hear.

Following near-constant sound-system glitches at last month's Town Meeting, officials say a brand new system will be in place for the special meeting set for 6 p.m. May 5 in Vernon Elementary's gym.

And, after the town received a complaint about a lack of accommodations for the hearing-impaired at Town Meeting, officials also expect to have new, wireless headphones available for the session.

"Hopefully, everything will be just fine at Town Meeting. We have all new equipment," said Mike Coughlin, Vernon's maintenance supervisor.

With cost-cutting on the agenda, debate during Vernon's tense, three-night Town Meeting was hampered by a glitchy sound system that sometimes left officials and voters with no amplification in a large school cafeteria packed with people. Selectboard members have said they had a new sound system ordered, but it did not arrive in time for Town Meeting.

The system now is available. And with voters having successfully petitioned for reconsideration of the fiscal 2015 budget, officials will get a chance to try it out a lot sooner than they may have initially thought.

Coughlin also has been given the green light to order wireless headphones to hook into that system. Officials hope that will provide a mobile, adaptable solution for those who are hard of hearing.

"Because the complaint's been made, we have to make sure we have the headphones available," Selectboard Chairwoman Patty O'Donnell said.

"We always thought that just the microphones were enough, but now we know they're not anymore," she added. "So we have to have something in place for that meeting."

There also have been complaints from spectators -- especially those watching from home -- who cannot hear Selectboard members during their regular meetings at the town office. Microphones don't appear to be the problem in the basement meeting room, so officials now expect to buy a new speaker to be installed on the ceiling.

"Basically, the way to solve that problem in the town office was to add more volume," Coughlin said.

In a separate equipment investment for town buildings, Selectboard members also have ordered the installation of time clocks to be used by all Vernon employees. The move was backed by an enforcement tool: Anyone who does not use the clocks, Selectboard members warned, will not be eligible to receive benefits.

"It is already stated in the employee handbook that any employee receiving money from the town has to follow the town employees' handbook in order to receive benefits, so we will add onto the town policy about the time clocks," O'Donnell said. "And anyone who refuses to use the time clocks will stop receiving benefits."

The clocks are expected to cost $1,500 to $2,000. O'Donnell characterized it as a move toward modernization, not a disciplinary measure.

"It's just to make it easier for (the town treasurer) -- to have easier record-keeping," O'Donnell said. "The way time cards are filled out now, sometimes you can't read the writing or they're done differently by different departments. This way, everything is clearer and easy ... everything's standardized, and every department's doing exactly the same thing."

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.