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The voters’ turn: PAYT town-wide vote scheduled

BRATTLEBORO—Voters will have their say on Pay-As-You-Throw on Tuesday, June 29.

The town-wide vote will take place at the Municipal Center in the Selectboard Meeting Room (Room 212) from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.

The Municipal Center was chosen as the polling site because the schools were unavailable. Town Manager Barbara Sondag said she is arranging special voters’ parking in the municipal lot.

A “yes” vote on the issue will mean voters support the adoption of a PAYT trash collection system where individuals purchase special trash bags. A “no” vote will mean voters oppose adopting PAYT and instead want to maintain the current trash collection system paid through property taxes.

“[Voters] have an opportunity to make a statement here. I’d be disappointed with less than 50 percent voter turnout,” said Selectboard Chair Dick DeGray.

The vote comes after months of debate, two petitions and flared tempers.

“I’m shocked. Only VY brings up such a strong response,” Selectboard member Daryl Pillsbury said in March.

DeGray announced at the May 18 Selectboard meeting an agreement had been reached with Moss Kahler and Leo Barile, two residents at the forefront of the PAYT opposition, to circulate a second petition.

The second petition, an initiative petition, required 450 signatures, the equivalent of 5 percent of registered voters. Initiative petitions are advisory and non-binding, but the agreement between the Selectboard and opponents stipulated the PAYT vote would be binding.

In under a week, Kahler and volunteers gathered 660 signatures. The Selectboard held a special meeting May 27 to officially schedule the June 29, PAYT vote.

Parsing the language

Kahler and Barile’s original petition, submitted March 25 to Town Clerk Annette Cappy, fell into controversy when the Selectboard, on advice from Town Attorney Robert Fisher, deemed the petition invalid.

According to DeGray, the sticking point in the petition was the phrase “final action,” implying that Representative Town Meeting members had line item authority over the municipal budget. He said town meeting members can advise on line items but the Selectboard makes the final decision.

Selectboard Clerk Jesse Corum said, “I didn’t agree [with the first petition] because it didn’t follow the correct procedure. I don’t think we should have town-wide votes on miscellaneous subsidiary motions when they have the effect of a line-item veto on the town budget,” he said.

“We still feel we met all the requirements for a referendum with the first petition. I’m still disappointed the Selectboard didn’t act on the first petition,” said Kahler.

The Selectboard turned the petition over to Windham Superior Court asking the court rule on the definition of “any action” in the referendum section of the Brattleboro Town Charter. In response, Kahler and his lawyers, David Gibson and Lawrin Crispe, filed a countersuit.

Another stipulation for the second petition was that all pending court filings be dropped.

Pillsbury expressed disappointment that the questions surrounding “any action” were not resolved.

Kahler said he, Barile and their lawyer weighed the choice of circulating a second petition to achieve a binding town-wide vote against determining the definition of “any action” through the courts. They decided the town-wide vote the “prudent” choice.

“If they [the Selectboard] really wanted to have a town-wide vote, why not accept the [original] petition?” he asked.

Kahler feels the Selectboard is trying to get the referendum language in the town charter changed so it will limit referendums.

Corum said he wanted to be clear that despite his voting to send the original petition to Windham Superior Court rather than immediately scheduling a town-wide vote that, “I fully support the town-wide vote. I always supported it. I think it is the right thing to do.”

He added, “People should know, if you’re voting ‘no’ [on PAYT] you’re voting to increase taxes by 2.8 percent. If we’re worried the elderly and the poor, which we always hear about, then we should vote ‘yes’ on this initiative.”

“I’m really excited we were able to resolve this amicably. Other [court] options were going to be drawn out,” said Selectboard Vice-Chair Dora Bouboulis.

Charter Review Commission member Spoon Agave said the commission had been waiting for the court’s ruling before revising any petition-related wording. Since the court will not determine the “any action” issue, the commission is discussing how best to proceed.

In a phone message, Agave said the commission did receive a suggestion from Fisher to clarify the charter by substituting the phrase “only warned articles” in place of “any action.” Agave said the commission would have to discuss this suggestion. 

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Originally published in The Commons issue #52 (Wednesday, June 2, 2010).

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