The final tally of this week's re-vote on the Leland & Gray Union Middle and High School budget must have been heart-wrenching for those who wanted to see the budget pass.
The first Australian ballot vote on the regional school's nearly $7 million budget -- which is up 2.8 percent from the current year -- happened Feb. 5 amid a snowstorm. The cumulative tally in the five towns was 132 against the spending plan and 122 in favor of it. A majority of voters in Jamaica, Newfane and Windham supported the budget, while a majority in Brookline and Townshend rejected it. The turnout was only 7 percent of the towns' total number of registered voters.
Just as Leland & Gray School Board members were preparing to cut the spending plan for a second vote, they received a petition signed by nearly 200 residents calling for reconsideration of the same budget. The petitioners felt certain that a greater turnout would lead to an affirmative result.
Officials had pushed for more residents to show up for the second vote, and they did -- the 599 votes cast represented the highest turnout ever for an Australian ballot on the Leland & Gray budget.
In the end, however, the budget was rejected a second time -- by just one vote.
While heartbreaking for those who put so much effort into the petition for a second vote, Wednesday's results remind us just how important it is for everyone to take the time to put that little piece of paper into the ballot box. It always strikes us as ironic that voter turnout is so much higher during a presidential election, which ultimately is decided by the electoral college system, than during a local election or Australian ballot when every single vote really does count. Furthermore, voting for local boards and local budgets has a much greater impact on our daily lives and on our communities than the vast majority of decisions made at the national level.
Let this be a lesson to Brattleboro residents as they face their own Australian ballot later this month on the town's proposed fiscal year 2015 budget.
To recap, Town Clerk Annette Cappy received a petition Tuesday afternoon forcing a re-vote for the $16,069,625 million General Fund Budget that was approved by Town Meeting Representatives on March 22.
"There is a general feeling that the Selectboard does not appreciate the financial difficulties that many people in town have found themselves in," said Town Meeting Representative Spoon Agave after delivering the petition to the town clerk. "The Selectboard put this budget together and there should be more discussion about it by the public."
Agave made a motion from the floor of Town Meeting to reduce the budget by about $600,000 to slow down the $14.1 million police-fire project. He said if voters turn down the budget at the special vote then the board would have to remove some money and reassess the police-fire project, though voters cannot direct line item spending.
Town Meeting Representatives approved the police-fire project at a special October 2012 meeting. A local option tax that would have raised about $600,000 to help pay for the project was turned down at that meeting, and then Town Meeting Representatives again rejected the option tax on March 22.
Even though he thinks there are aspects of the police-fire project that do have to be taken on, Agave said the town should be able to move ahead with a renovation project that addresses the health and safety concerns for much less money.
"When Town Meeting Reps approved the project, they were trapped. It was either up or down," Agave said. "The payments on this project are going to be the biggest single line item in our budget for 20 years. There should be more than one choice."
The Selectboard will hold a special meeting on April 7 to set the date for the Australian ballot vote in Brattleboro, which Chairman David Gartenstein said will probably be held on April 17. The board will attempt to hold a public information session on the budget to give the public an overview since there will be no discussion during the Australian ballot vote.
If voters reject the 2015 budget, then the Selectboard will meet again to come up with a new budget, which will then go before Town Meeting Representatives for another vote.
We urge all registered voters to make the effort to educate themselves about the budget and the police-fire project, and take the time to cast their ballot. As Agave noted, this single issue will have a major effect on the town's budget as well as its emergency services for years to come.