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Towns decide budgets, cannabis sales

Most towns deciding marijuana sales per new state law approve the measure

With additional reporting by Commons correspondent Olga Peters.

—For the second straight year, the “meeting” part of Town Meeting Day was hard to find in Windham County, as only Athens and Stratton opted to have in-person meetings.Every other town either conducted business by Australian ballot on March 1 or postponed the meeting until warmer weather returns later this spring.There were several contested races of interest around the county.In Newfane, incumbent Katy Johnson-Aplin and newcomer Jeffrey Chevalier were the winners for the two, one-year seats on the Selectboard, with challenger Cristine White finishing third. No vote totals were provided by Town Clerk Carol Hesselbach.Emily Long defeated Peter Broussard for a three-year seat on the West River Unified School District Board in the other contested race in Newfane.In Brattleboro, incumbent Selectboard members Jessica Gelter, Tim Wessel, and Daniel Quipp were unopposed. Gelter and Wessel were re-elected to one-year seats, while Quipp was elected to the three-year seat.The only contested town position was for moderator, as former Selectboard member David Gartenstein and Representive Town Meeting Member Kurt Daims ran for the seat being vacated by Lawrin Crispe, who is retiring.Gartenstein won the job, 915–270.Guilford had not reported election results at press time Tuesday night. Incumbents Michael Becker and Zon Eastes faced challenges from Jason Herron and Lynn Latuilippe King, for the three-year seat and two-year seat, respectively.With Guilford results unavailable, the results of the races for open directors’ seats on the Windham Southeast School District school board — where all of the four towns in the district collectively decide individual towns’ representation on the board — were also unavailable.Wilmington (173–85), Rockingham (318–187), Putney (384–263), Marlboro (204–94), and Stratton all approved authorizing cannabis retailers in town under the procedures of a new state law, while Vernon rejected the measure, 190–126. Rockingham voters also gave their approval to buying the historic Bellows Falls train station to ensure its preservation, and signed off on a $6,344,252 town budget.

Athens

—• In one of only two in-person town meetings in Windham County, voters approved by a 26–23 vote to expand the size of the Selectboard from three members to five members.• The meeting was held at the former Athens Elementary School which, after this year’s vote, marks the last time that town officers will be elected from the floor. Next year, they will be elected by Australian ballot during all-day balloting on Town Meeting Day.• Voters also voted to move Annual Town Meeting to the Monday night prior to Town Meeting Day, starting in 2023. • Voters approved a $578,489 town budget, with $374,232 to be raised by taxes.• At the end of the meeting, longtime Town Clerk Darlene Wyman was honored. She recently announced her retirement.

Dummerston

—• Dummerston, like many Vermont towns, chose to hold its Town Meeting vote by Australian ballot in light of the ongoing Covid pandemic.“Steady,” said Town Clerk Laurie Frechette when asked about turnout.People had requested 456 absentee ballots, she adds. “So we’re still waiting on quite a few."As of the last hour of voting, Frechette said 360 absentee ballots had been returned. By the time the polls closed, 421 votes had been cast for a 27 percent turnout.“Dummerston has constantly had a pretty high turnout for non-primary years,” she said.Holding elections in the time of Covid has meant new challenges for town clerks. But for Frechette, the process has gotten easier.“Last year seemed harder but this year is easier,” she said. “We have such a great group of people that work together that it really makes it much easier.”• Voters approved a general fund budget of $500,758, 380–26; approved a $583,955 highway fund budget, 383–21; and OK’d adding $140,000 to the Capital Fund, 366–40.• In the only contested race, a three-year seat on the Selectboard, incumbent David Baxendale defeated challenger Mark Kracum, 243–122.• Voters also approved a non-binding referendum question urging the Windham County Sheriff’s Office to enact changes to its Fair and Impartial Policing Policy, 345–61.

Grafton

—• A total of 124 voters showed up to the polls, and in the one somewhat contested race — a write-in contest for a seat on the Windham Northeast School District Board — Hardy Merrill won with 54 votes.

Guilford

—• Results of two contested Selectboard races were not available at press time Tuesday night.

Putney

—• Voters decided a three-way race for a three-year seat on the Selectboard, as Eric McGowan was the top vote-getter with 344, followed by Charles Raubicheck (138) and Timothy S. Morris (117).• They also decided, 464–191, to expand the Selectboard from three seats to five, with a special election for the two new seats to be held within 60 days of Town Meeting, and to allow cannabis retailers in town (384–263).• Voters also approved $1,475,193 for the General Fund (518–113).• The town received approval to purchase a new highway department truck for up to $175,000 (507–130).• Voters approved exempting the East Putney Community Club from municipal and educational taxes for five years (518–119).• A non-binding referendum question urging the Windham County Sheriff’s Office to enact changes to its Fair and Impartial Policing Policy passed, 531–130.• Voters rejected a measure to rescind a 2014 Annual Meeting vote to exempt alternate energy sources from property taxes, 412–211.

Stratton

—• In the other in-person town meeting, voters unanimously approved the retail sale of cannabis, as well as the town and education budgets.• Attendance was sparse at Town Hall, with only about 20 people in attendance. They approved an education budget of $1,379,648, a general fund budget of $954,671, a highway budget of $1,008,000, $40,633 in spending for social service and nonprofit organizations, and $65,550 for the Stratton Mountain Volunteer Fire Company.• In voting for town officers from the meeting floor, Boomer Walker defeated Paul Bernard, 12–8, to fill the Selectboard seat held by Kevin Robinson, who died on Jan. 28. It was the only contested race.

Vernon

—• Sandra Harris was re-elected to a three-year term on the Selectboard, 238–80, over challenger Kenneth Bloom, while Thomas Guerino was the top vote-getter for the two-year seat on the board. He received 162 votes, while Bloom received 78 votes and Katherine Baldwin got 68 votes. All other town positions were uncontested.• By a vote of 190–126, voters rejected a proposal to allow cannabis retailers in town. Voters approved the $7,137,725 school budget, 189–127.• Town Meeting will continue on Sunday, May 1, at 2 p.m., at Vernon Elementary School’s outdoor pavilion.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #653 (Wednesday, March 2, 2022). This story appeared on page A1.

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