Proposed Charlotte Charter Would Make Town Budget Voting A Two-Step Process

Oct 12, 2015

It's been debated in towns all around Vermont: Should the municipal budget be voted from the floor of town meeting or in the ballot booth? In Charlotte, a proposed governance charter would require both.

If adopted, Charlotte's draft charter would put the annual town budget before voters on the floor of town meeting each March. As is currently the case, town meeting voters could approve, amend or defeat the budget.

If approved, or amended and approved, the budget would then require a second vote via Australian ballot for final passage. That vote would be held several weeks after the floor vote. If the budget or a budget-related article is defeated from the floor, a revised budget and/or article would be voted upon by Australian ballot, after a public informational meeting is held.

As is required for the passage of municipal charters in Vermont, two public hearings were scheduled on the proposed charter. The first hearing was held Sept. 14 and a second hearing is scheduled for Oct. 26.

A debate at last week's select board meeting was not over the substance of the charter; it was over the date it should be voted upon.

The original schedule called for a vote to be held, by Australian ballot, at a special town meeting on Nov. 3. But at Wednesday's meeting the select board unanimously voted to postpone the vote until Town Meeting Day, in March.

The argument for postponing the charter vote was much the same as the argument for the charter itself: to get more people involved in the voting process. Proponents of putting off the vote said a Town Meeting Day ballot would mean higher voter turnout, especially since Town Meeting Day 2016 is also the presidential primary vote.

Opponents to the postponement argued pushing the charter vote back from November to March would mean another budget year under the old system of voting from the floor of town meeting alone.

Once a town adopts a governance charter or a charter change, it must be approved by the state Legislature. Opponents to the postponed vote said a November vote adopting the charter would mean the Legislature could approve the charter in the coming session, and it could be in place in time to vote the budget in March. However, a March vote would mean putting off enactment for a full budget year.

In the end, the select board opted for more time and a March 2016 vote on the proposed charter. If passed and approved by the Legislature, the new two-step voting system would go into effect March 2017.