DUMMERSTON — Town Meeting Day may be three months away, but one town is already considering scrapping an in-person meeting in favor of voting on the Annual Town Meeting warning articles by Australian ballot.
The Selectboard says it is weighing this option, rather than holding the traditional Town Meeting at the Dummerston School gymnasium.
The question is on the agenda for the Wednesday, Dec. 2 board meeting, which begins at 6 p.m. on Zoom. Access to the meeting is available by phone or links on the meeting agenda at bit.ly/590-dummerston-selectboard.
“The state Legislature has given towns permission to do this due to the risks of public meetings during the pandemic,” the board wrote in a news release on Nov. 30.
Four members who discussed the issue at the Nov. 18 board meeting - Terry Chapman, Maria Glabach, David Baxendale, and Zeke Goodband - were strongly in favor of the Australian ballot option after a brief discussion.
Glabach pointed out that amid all the uncertainties of COVID-19 at present, the Australian ballot option offered some certainty that Annual Town Meeting could take place.
“We know this can happen,” she said.
According to the board's news release, “We can change this decision up until later in January but, for now, it seems prudent to make plans for minimizing the risks to the voters of the town.”
The Selectboard said voting via Australian ballot will mean several changes in the way that warrant articles would be considered.
The law that temporarily empowers Selectboards to let Town Meeting articles be decided by pre-printed ballot also requires that informational meetings be held prior to the vote.
But because the articles can't be amended, such meetings will be too late for voters to actually propose any changes.
“Because we won't be able to debate articles and amend them, we need to have your thoughts and concerns before we finalize the budgets and articles in late January,” the Selectboard said.
“With an Australian ballot, the articles will be listed and you will mark yes or no for each one. This replaces the yes or no votes from the floor that we usually do at town meeting, and all the articles that we normally vote on will be listed on the ballot.”
If a budget is voted down, the board will need to revise it and present it to voters for another vote within a certain window of time.
With an Australian ballot, the town will need to hold an informational meeting in February, before Town Meeting Day. That would be conducted online and recorded by Brattleboro Community Television.
The board said that in this proposed scenario, this meeting “will be the opportunity for the public to ask questions and go through the warning just as we do at a regular Town Meeting. The important difference is we can't amend articles at that point; the time to make proposals or influence line items is between now and mid-January.”
Work on the fiscal year 2021 town budgets began in October, and the board said that “we don't anticipate any big changes from what was approved at our last Town Meeting.”
“We are taking a cautious approach; our goal in most cases is to level-fund,” they said. “If you were OK with the budgets and articles from the last Town Meeting, you will probably be okay with what we put together this time.”
Should the Selectboard go in this direction, the board said that “now through mid-January is the time to let us know your thoughts and influence what will be presented to voters in March.”
The board may be reached at [email protected].