Vernon discusses special Town Meeting
VERNON -- Town Meeting began here just after 7 p.m. on Monday, March 3.
When it will end is still anyone's guess.
Vernon Selectboard this week set a special Town Meeting to reconsider the town's fiscal year 2015 budget. But, with additional petitions for reconsideration possibly pending, officials subsequently rescinded that date.
The plan now is to wait to reschedule a special Town Meeting until early April, when the deadline for submitting such petitions has passed. Selectboard Chairwoman Patty O'Donnell said board members want to take care of all reconsiderations at one special meeting.
That will "save the taxpayers the expense of paying for extra Town Meetings and keep the voters from having to come back" for multiple meetings, she said.
Vernon's Town Meeting lasted about 10 hours over three nights earlier this month. There was a lot to talk about: With the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant scheduled to cease operating by year's end, Selectboard members had cut hundreds of thousands of dollars from their proposed fiscal 2015 spending plan.
But Town Meeting attendees went even further, amending the budget on a 118-112 vote to slice $262,095 from Vernon Police Department's budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. All that remains is $40,000, with which the Selectboard was directed to sign a supplemental law-enforcement contract either with the Windham County Sheriff's Department or Vermont State Police.
O'Donnell opened the Selectboard's Monday meeting by reiterating that the board did not engineer or take part in that amendment vote.
"That motion was not in any way, shape or form made by the Selectboard. Nor was anybody on the Selectboard involved with that motion," she said. "We put together what we thought was a very responsible budget for the police department. Our task now, because of the vote that was taken at Town Meeting, is to explore the cost of the sheriff's department."
The Selectboard on Monday also had the task of trying to determine when a special Town Meeting might be held. That's because a petition bearing 213 signatures -- far more than the minimum 83 needed -- was submitted on March 13 calling for reconsideration of the budget, which was approved by voters at $1.85 million.
The petition was delivered by resident Mike Ball, a former Selectboard member who spoke against the police cuts at Town Meeting. And it was applauded by Vernon Police Chief Mary Beth Hebert.
"This outpouring of support shows me that people are concerned about what occurred at Town Meeting," Hebert said. "The amendment from the floor took us all by surprise, and had it been a warned article, the outcome may have been overwhelmingly different."
She added that "the future of Vernon rests within its citizenry, and if they want their voice to be heard and their vote to count, they must attend Town Meeting and the upcoming special Town Meeting to cast their ballot."
The date of that special session, which initially had been set on Monday for April 29, now is in limbo: After conferring with fellow Selectboard members, O'Donnell said officials now are hearing that more petitions will arrive.
That may include a request for reconsideration of Article 10, which had sought to restore full salaries for the town's elected auditors. The Selectboard had slashed those salaries in favor of an outside audit, and an effort to reinstate the auditors' money during budget debate at Town Meeting was defeated.
There was no word on Wednesday about whether a petition calling for reconsideration of Article 10 had been submitted or verified.
Given tight public-warning schedules for special meetings, O'Donnell said Selectboard members don't want to be put in a position of setting several special Town Meetings to reconsider several articles.
"That just doesn't make any sense," she said.
So the date will be set next month. And even if the special meeting deals only with Article 11 -- the subject of the petition that's already been submitted -- officials are expecting another lengthy debate.
"It's a lot more than one issue. Everything that is in the budget is now back on the table," O'Donnell said. "There could be motions to increase (spending). There could be motions to decrease. So it will be quite a few hours again."
O'Donnell said the Selectboard is not taking a stance on the police issue. At the special Town Meeting, "we probably will go through the budget again and explain it to people, because there will be new people there."
There also may be new information about the cost of supplemental law enforcement coverage if Vernon Police Department is eliminated. Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark and a State Police administrator have warned that the town's remaining $40,000 in police funding won't buy many patrols.
"The vote that we have, in hand now from the townspeople, was to contact the sheriff's department. So we will do that," O'Donnell said. "We will have a (cost) comparison for people at Town Meeting. But we're not giving any recommendation at all. We presented our budget."
Mike Faher can be reached at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.
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