Voters Said No - Now What?

Apr 3, 2013

Now What? That's a fairly common question at select board and school board meetings this time of year, especially in down economy years.

What happens after municipal officials invest time, energy and money planning a project that the voters turn down at town meeting? Should they throw in the towel? Scale down the project and ask again? What about trying to do a better job explaining why the project is needed?

Case in point is Shaftsbury's attempt to build a new town garage this year. On Town Meeting Day the vote was 505 to 292 against a $1.5 million bond to build a new town garage and related infrastructure. One of the first questions the select board took up after town meeting was exactly that: Now what? The meeting minutes show the board is in a sticky spot:

There was an extended discussion of whether and how to move forward given the failure of the vote on the bid for construction of a new town garage. Discussion focused on details of the development of the proposal and the research that had been undertaken, in particular on the work of the Facilities Committee over the past five years and of MSK Engineering in developing a design, and on the need to for better communication with the public. The Board considered approaches designed to bring more voices into the conversation without bypassing the Facilities Committee and to ensure that information reaches the public in a timely fashion.

One selectman suggested the board form an ad hoc committee, to encourage more participation in the process. But his motion did not gain a second and was withdrawn.

After withdrawing his motion, Carl Korman expressed his hope that those who voted against the proposal would have a viable mechanism for voicing their concerns.

The conversation is ongoing in Shaftsbury, even as the select board attempts to bring more voices into the discussion. The same could be said for controversial infrastructure projects around Vermont, as municipalities struggle to strike the balance between what the town needs and what the taxpayers can afford.