Trustees ponder change to annual village meeting date

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BELLOWS FALLS — Any change in the date and time of the annual Bellows Falls village meeting would need approval from the Vermont Legislature, Municipal Manager Wendy Harrison said Tuesday.

The trustees are thinking about changing the date of the meeting, as well as the day of the week and the time — all with the goal of increasing attendance at the annual meeting, which is currently held on the third Monday in May.

Village Trustee Jonathan Wright had suggested the board look into a change, noting that his hometown of Westminster switched its annual town meeting to the Saturday before the traditional Tuesday in March, with good results. But Harrison reported that because the date and time are set in the village charter, the Vermont Legislature has to approve any changes.

Harrison said while it would take time, she didn't expect any opposition from the Legislature, once the village settled on a different date and time.

While there are roughly 3,000 residents in Bellows Falls, the largest village in the town of Rockingham, less than 80 usually show up for the village meeting. Last month, about 60 people attended the night meeting, which is held in the Bellows Falls Opera House, while more than double that number voted during elections the following day.

Bellows Falls has a traditional floor meeting when it comes to budgets and most money articles. This year, the $1.7 million village budget was approved on a voice vote, but only after a paper ballot on whether to cut the budget by $100,000.

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A move toward Australian balloting for the village budget was defeated last month on a 35-21 margin, with people opting for traditional floor meeting.

Harrison said since any change would have to be adopted by the Legislature, the earliest a new date could be used would be 2021.

Jonathan Wright said he would be interested in feedback from the community about whether they supported a change.

Trustee James McAuliffe questioned what the timing would be in conjunction with Rockingham Town Meeting, since the municipal staff would have to prepare both budgets. "When would be a window? Can we get the work done?" he said.

Village Attorney Raymond Massucco suggested the village could get a change adopted by the Legislature, but to keep it vague, so the date and time could be set at a later date, or even remain flexible. "We can find that out," Harrison said.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.


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