Newfane to maintain Town Meeting tradition
NEWFANE -- When residents descend on Town Meeting 2015, they'll be heading to historic Williamsville Hall.
And the following year, they'll return -- as they did this year -- to 182-year-old Union Hall.
The decree came from voters on Tuesday as they rejected a proposal to hold future Town Meetings at the much more modern NewBrook Elementary School.
In spite of some officials' concerns about the cost, accessibility and overall practicality of convening meetings in the old halls, many said they want to stick to tradition.
"In many ways, it's more practical to have the meeting at the school," said Steve Levine, a member of the Williamsvile Hall Committee. "But in other ways, we would lose a great deal."
With the exception of one recent Town Meeting, the annual gathering of Newfane voters alternates between Williamsville Hall in the village of Williamsville and Union Hall, situated near the Windham County courthouse in Newfane Village.
Those buildings are landmarks. But they also are somewhat inconvenient places to hold a modern election: On Tuesday, for instance, Town Clerk Gloria Cristelli said she had to supply her own illumination at Union Hall.
"I brought two of my own personal lamps, and that's the only way I could see," Cristelli said, adding that an additional light was clipped to a voting booth.
Even before Tuesday morning, much work and expense went into preparing the hall for Town Meeting. Selectboard member Todd Lawley, who also serves as Newfane road foreman, told voters that "it took the road crew four hours with two pieces of machinery to open up both sides of the road" near Union Hall.
Additional labor was required over two days to shovel and remove ice at the hall, which is closed for the winter.
Heating is another matter: Cristelli said hundreds of gallons of oil were required "just to open that up and heat it up for one day."
It all adds up to an expensive Town Meeting day.
"I think that the least it's going to cost us is $1,200," Cristelli said.
Union Hall is owned by the incorporated village of Newfane. Williamsville Hall is town-owned, but there are similar costs associated with opening and preparing the building for Town Meeting.
Cristelli sees another issue: Federal law will require a working phone for the 2016 presidential-primary voting at Union Hall. There is no such phone line there, with Cristelli recalling that officials paid $150 to $200 to set up a special line for the last primary.
That would not be a complication at NewBrook Elementary. Also, there is plenty of parking, and officials point out that the school lot already would be plowed.
This week, however, resident Dan Brooks was among those who said tradition trumps such concerns.
"I would like to encourage people to maintain what we have going now," Brooks said during debate at Town Meeting. "There's something about coming into this hall on Town Meeting day that carries on a tradition that we're very proud of. And it's not just tradition for tradition's sake. It's an atmosphere we have in here."
Jon Mack, during his last official function as Selectboard chairman, also did not support the switch to NewBrook.
"I really think it's an excellent tradition. I think it's worth the $1,000," Mack said. "It is a wonderful space. Williamsville Hall is a wonderful space. I do think it matters."
Levine is among those working to make Williamsville Hall more usable year-round, or at least for nine months of the year. The simple act of convening in the historic structures, he believes, is important.
"By having the meeting in Williamsville Hall and Union Hall, it supports those buildings," Levine said.
He added that there also is value in alternating Town Meeting locations.
"I feel it's important for people from Newfane to come to Williamsville," Levine said.
He doesn't buy the idea that NewBrook is a better meeting spot. When the school hosted Town Meeting, Levine contends, "nobody really liked it. There was no stage. People couldn't hear, and people couldn't see."
Subsequently, in 2011, Newfane residents voted against changing the site of future meetings. They did the same on Tuesday.
Mike Faher can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.
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