VERNON—Despite new numbers in Vernon’s double recount on March 12, the results of the March 3 town election remain the same.
The recount upheld the defeat of the fiscal year 2016 school budget and the win for Selectboard candidate Michael Courtemanche.
Tim Arsenault, Town Moderator and chair of the Board of Civil Authority, thanked the five audience members for attending the afternoon recount, March 12.
“It’s important we have public integrity and citizens’ trust in the process,” said Arsenault after the recount. “This was the proper thing to do.”
Voters defeated the $4.4 million fiscal year 2016 school budget on March 3, by four votes 245 to 241. The budget was still defeated after the recount a little more than a week later. The “nay” votes increased for a new result of 247 to 239.
Four members of the Board of Civil Authority spent approximately 40 minutes reviewing and counting the school budget vote printed on purple Australian ballots.
The recount was held in the Selectboard meeting room of the town offices. On the board’s meeting table, a nameplate already displayed Courtemanche’s name.
Courtemanche defeated incumbent board member Sandra Harris 242 to 238 on March 3. The recount numbers changed by one — but still in Courtemanche’s favor, 243 to 238.
Counting the canary yellow election ballots took approximately 50 minutes.
Arsenault informed the small audience that, based on Robert’s Rules of Order, the Board of Civil Authority would not recount the paper ballot vote that ended the Town Auditors Department.
On the first night of Town Meeting, March 2, voters agreed to discontinue the Town Auditors Department in favor of using an outside auditing firm. The tally was 109 to 100.
According to Robert’s Rules, said Arsenault, paper ballots — not considered the same as Australian ballots — cannot receive a do-over once the vote at the meeting is made and voters move on to the next agenda item. Therefore, the Board of Civil Authority had no legal basis for recounting the auditors department vote.
In a phone interview, School Board chair Mike Hebert sighed upon hearing the result of the recount.
The School Board will discuss the budget and scheduling a new town-wide vote at its March 23 meeting, he said.
Hebert believes voters thought the entire $4.4 million belonged to the elementary school’s budget, and it does not.
Hebert estimates that the elementary school accounts for about half the total amount.
He pointed to a quandary for voters in the polling booth. State statute requires the ballot state the total budget going toward education; in Vernon’s case, $4.4 million.
“The wording does not reflect what actually happens,” Hebert said of the budget language appearing on the ballot.
The only part of the budget voters approved on March 3 was the elementary school budget, he said. Half the $4.4 million had been approved nearly one month prior.
A handful of voters from five towns essentially approved each other’s school budgets at the BUHS District #6 annual meeting in Brattleboro on Feb. 10.
Hebert estimates approximately half of Vernon’s $4.4 million funds the Brattleboro Union High School, Brattleboro Area Middle School, the Windham Regional Career Center, and the supervisory union’s assessment.
Of the total 14,174 registered voters in the five towns served by the BUHS District #6, only 73, or 0.5 percent, voted on the budget during the annual meeting, Feb. 10. Of that number, only 10 of Vernon’s 1,687 registered voters attended.
If the Vernon School Board must cut its budget, the cuts will hit the elementary school because that’s where the Town School Board has control, said Hebert. This could mean hundreds of thousands from the bottom line, said Hebert.
“What do we control that costs that kind of money?” he asked. “The transportation program? The lunch program? Really?”
“It’s going to be tough,” Hebert said.
Hebert is crossing his fingers for some good-news figures at the upcoming board meeting.
Preliminary number crunching on some energy projects the school has undertaken, like the new heat exchange project, point to savings in the utilities budget. Hebert said the School Board recently learned it had made a very favorable deal for heating oil that may hopefully drop expenses by $50,000.
After the recount, Courtemanche checked his watch. The duly elected Selectboard member had to dash back to work.
“I’m pleased the vote stood up to the recount,” he said. “Hopefully we can all move forward and move Vernon to the next level.”
Courtemanche returns to the board after three years away. He said he needed the “cooling off” time. He had continued working on waste management issues in town.
When asked why he wanted to return to the board, Courtemanche said, “I just got my taste back for it.”
He added that he has not agreed with some recent handling of town issues by the board.
Courtemanche wants to rebuild trust in the board and relationships between the board, committees, staff, and citizens. He also looks to increase the board’s transparency.
“The town needs to bond and work together,” he said.