On Election Day, Many Voters Will Also Have Local Questions To Decide

Oct 28, 2016

On Nov. 8, Vermont voters will cast ballots for local, state and national political candidates. At the same time, voters in some cities and towns will also be considering local ballot initiatives. 

A number of towns around Vermont are hoping to take advantage of high voter turnout for the general election. Local ballot questions range from bond issues to charter changes to school district consolidations.

In Burlington, voters will weigh in on zoning changes and borrowing needed for a proposed downtown development. The city is also seeking voter approval to borrow money for water main and general infrastructure improvements.

Bond votes will take place in several towns. Voters in Norwich will consider a plan for a Public Safety Building to house the police and fire departments. The proposal calls for renovating the existing fire station and adding police and multipurpose facilities.

Last year Norwich voters twice rejected public safety building proposals. But Interim Town Manager Dave Ormiston says the latest plan is scaled back and will cost several hundred thousand dollars less.

"The difference between this project and the last project is this is a much more simpler design," says Ormiston adding, "It still gives us the same use that we’re going to need."

This computer rendering shows what the new Norwich Public Safety Building would look like, if built.
Credit Jay White Architect

Voters in Newfane will also revisit a previously-proposed project. In August, voters rejected a plan for new town offices. A petition was submitted for reconsideration, so the same project will be re-voted on Election Day.
    
Champlain Water District has 75,000 customers in a dozen municipal water systems. Voters in Colchester, Essex, Essex Junction, Milton, Shelburne, South Burlington, Williston, Winooski and Jericho Village will consider three water district bonds. However, General Manager Jim Fay says the outcome of the votes won’t raise taxes — or even the water rates that the district charges member municipalities.

"Approving all three of these will not raise our existing wholesale water rate," says Fay. "We try to maintain about $1 million of bonded investment. Some are 20-year payback and some are 30 and we’ve got a fair amount retiring right now that allows us to add new without impacting the rate at all."

If approved, the bonds will pay for a water tank and well expansion at the district’s treatment facility, a water tower in Williston and transmission line improvements. Fay says the district’s goal is to stay on top of system maintenance to prevent costly emergencies.

"We really try hard to be proactive with our investments and keep the system very reliable and redundant and not get behind on investments," he says. "So we ask everyone for, hopefully, their approval on these continued investments for reliable water and fire protection."

Another Election Day vote is happening in Westford. The Chittenden County town is looking to buy 130 acres of the former Jackson Farm for a town forest and other public uses. The article also seeks to permanently conserve another 42 acres of the property as a working farm.

In Harford voters will again be asked to approve two proposed charter changes. Those amendments passed on Town Meeting Day, but the changes were not properly posted in the voting booths, according to Town Manager Leo Puller.

"This is really an administrative correction," says Puller, "but it does give the public another opportunity to vote on these two issues."

Puller says one of the charter changes will allow Hartford to collect a local option tax.

"It’s a 1-percent tax on rooms, meals and alcoholic beverages here in the town," he explains. "And that money’s going to be put into a capital reserve fund until it’s directed otherwise by the vote of the town."

The other charter amendment will require all town and school district budget items be voted on by Australian ballot, rather than from the floor of a town meeting.

Election Day will also feature three Act 46 school district consolidation votes. The Barre Town and Barre City districts are voting to become the Barre Unified Union School District.

Towns in the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union are also voting to unify under Act 46. Voters in Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton, New Haven and Starksboro will cast ballots on that proposal.

And four of the five towns on Grand Isle will consider forming a union school district that would go up through sixth grade. Students in grades seven through 12 would have school choice.

Voters in Grand Isle, Isle La Motte, North Hero and South Hero will be voting on the proposal. The Alburgh School Board has decided not to join the unified district, at least for now.

A proposed industrial wind project would cross the town line, occupying land in both Windham and Grafton.
Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR

And on Election Day voters in Windham and Grafton will cast votes for or against the industrial Stiles Brook Wind Project. The developer is offering annual cash payments to voters if the project is approved.

While the developer doesn’t need the support of voters to move forward on the project, the company says it will give up on the proposal if the voters are against it.