Looking back on another year of Town Meeting Day disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, there were two major issues that came up before voters.
Two years ago, Vermont put into motion a plan to legalize the production, distribution, sale, and possession of recreational cannabis and gave cities and towns a say in determining whether to allow retail sales in their communities to anyone 21 and older.
Under Vermont law, consumption of recreational cannabis is legal, but communities must opt in before retailers can sell the product for non-medical use.
Forty-one towns in Vermont this year considered retail cannabis measures on Town Meeting Day on March 1. Of the Windham County towns that considered the measure in 2022, Marlboro, Putney, Rockingham, Stratton, and Wilmington all approved it, while Vernon rejected it.
Brattleboro, Jamaica, and Londonderry previously approved retail cannabis sales at their respective 2021 town meetings.
“It's a very important moment for Vermont,” James Pepper, chair of the Vermont Cannabis Control Board, told VTDigger last week. “We want Vermonters to be able to access this product close to their home as opposed to having these cannabis deserts around Vermont.”
Three Windham County towns - Dummerston, Marlboro, and Putney - passed non-binding resolutions asking that the Windham County Sheriff's Office add language to the department's Fair and Impartial Policing Policy that would limit collaboration between the Sheriff's Department and immigration authorities.
Those towns followed the lead of Brattleboro, which recently approved the same changes.
Some of the suggested changes include not using immigration status as a criterion for a citation, arrest, or custody by members of local law enforcement; not sharing information about victims and witnesses gathered by the members of local law enforcement with federal immigration authorities except on felony investigations; not granting access to detainees unless immigration authorities have a judicially issued criminal warrant; and arresting and detaining a person for illegal border crossing only if the person is witnessed crossing the border.
Here is some of what happened in other Windham County towns on Town Meeting Day that was not able to be included in last week's issue:
• Library expansion passes: By a vote of 348-333, a margin of just 15 votes, a $1 million expansion of the Guilford Free Library was approved by Town Meeting voters.
• Selectboard incumbents win; Belogour becomes auditor by write-in: Not as close were the margins of victory for the two incumbent members of the Selectboard, as both survived challenges from two electoral newcomers.
Michael Becker was re-elected to a three-year term with 421 votes. Challenger Jason Herron received 242 votes, and write-in candidate Tara Cheney received 46 votes.
Zon Eastes won another two-year term as he received 422 votes, while Lynn Latulippe King got 281 votes.
Pavel “Paul” Belogour won as a write-in candidate for town auditor with 36 votes. Belogour is the owner of the Brattleboro Reformer and multiple properties and enterprises in southern Vermont.
• Financial decisions: Voters overwhelmingly approved the town's nearly $1 million highway fund (588–95), the roughly $860,000 general fund (557–118), and the $2.7 million town school budget (454–206) for fiscal year 2023, as well as $243,000 for the town's volunteer fire department.
• Financial articles: Voters approved $420,000 for the highway fund and another $420,000 for the general fund for FY 2023. They also approved a $3,714,000 school budget for FY23, 199-93. That amounts to $25,738 per equalized pupil, which is 21.63 percent more than the current fiscal year.
• Fire Department spending: By a 299-7 vote, voters approved $38,500 for the Marlboro Volunteer Fire Department, and also approved $50,000 for the department's fire apparatus fund. by a vote of 274-20.
• Election: Incumbents Elijah Zimmer and Rick Cowan and board Chair Peter Golec were all re-elected to the Selectboard, and former School Superintendent Chris Kibbe and current Chair Priscilla Lambert were elected to seats on the Rockingham School Board.
• Financial decisions: Voters gave their support to a $6,345,252 budget for town and highway expenses, 435-71, as well as to spending up to $150,000 for a new highway department truck and plow.
• Train station purchase approved: Voters approved spending $75,000 to pay for the town's portion to buy the Bellows Falls train station to ultimately preserve it.
• School budget votes: Voters also overwhelmingly approved the $7,310,950 operating budget for Bellows Falls Union High School budget, and $3,019,676 as the town's share of the River Valley Technical Center School operating budget.
• Selectboard race: In the only contested race on the ballot, incumbent Selectboard member Greg Brown narrowly defeated challenger Abigail Crosby, 126–119, for a three-year seat.
• Financial decisions: Voters approved a $674,939 general fund budget for FY 2023, 222–36, and also OK'd a budget of $1,416,961 for the maintenance and repair of town highways and $115,165 for the fire department.
• Financial matters: Voters approved General Fund expenditures of $236,413 for operating expenses, 187-11, and a highway budget of $488,568, 190-11.They also approved a FY23 operating budget of $434,000 for the Windham School District, 112-85.
• School board election: Crystal Corriveau was elected to represent the town on the West River Education District Board. She defeated Rory Rosselot, 104–64, to serve the remaining two years of the seat held by outgoing board member Howie Ires.