By Eric Blaisdell
NORTHFIELD – Residents voted Tuesday morning to no longer vote on Tuesday mornings for the next three years, instead electing to hold their annual town meeting the night before Town Meeting Day.
The warning asked residents if Northfield should hold its annual meeting the Monday night that precedes the statewide day of voting. The motion was amended asking if the meeting should be held on Monday night for the next three years. Those who supported the measure said it would give more people a chance to attend the meeting, as many have to work during the day on Tuesday. Residents said expanding it out to three years would give people a chance to get used to the change. Some wanted to keep the motion to one year so that if there wasn’t a high turnout next year the meeting would revert back to Tuesday mornings. In the end the voice vote was too close to call so those who were for and against stood up and were counted with the pro-three-year side winning 53-52. The article then passed easily.
Residents were also asked if items such as the municipal budget and other public questions should be moved to Australian ballot. Currently, the town only uses Australian ballot for the election of officers and to decide on expenditures for area organizations like the Good Samaritan Haven and the Central Vermont Council on Aging. All other town matters are decided by voice vote at the annual meeting.
Many spoke out against moving the municipal budget to Australian ballot, saying they appreciate the ability to debate the budget with their fellow residents as well as having the ability to alter the budget if they so choose, which wouldn’t be possible by Australian ballot voting.
Former select board chairman John Quinn was one of the few who spoke in favor of moving the budget to Australian ballot. Quinn noted that there were around 100 people at Tuesday’s meeting that would be voting on a budget that would impact Northfield’s more than 6,000 residents. The article failed in a voice vote.
The budget itself passed unanimously after some pointed questions to the select board. Voters approved $2.69 million to be raised from taxes, which is $41,420, or 1.5 percent, more than the current budget. The tax rate will climb by 1.34 cents under the new budget.
While certain parts of the budget have gone up, mainly due to increases in wages and benefits for town employees, expenditures have gone down. That was achieved in part by the Select Board using surplus funds and transferring money from capital budget reserves.
Before the budget was approved, resident Bruce Wright said more than $1 million of the town’s budget goes toward the police department, the fire department and the ambulance service. Wright wanted to know how much time the town’s emergency services spend at Norwich University.
Select Board Chairman K. David Maxwell said about 15 percent of the calls the town’s emergency services respond to come from Norwich.
Some questioned why the town has refused to provide funding for a sixth police officer. The town recently announced that Bill Jennings will become the town’s next police chief in April. Residents said in order for the police department to be able to do its job 24 hours a day, seven days a week, a sixth officer is needed or the select board was setting Jennings up to fail.
Maxwell said while the salary and benefits for another officer — about $90,000 — wasn’t in the proposed budget, if Jennings comes in and says he needs another officer, the board would be willing to hire that officer and run a deficit until next year’s budget, so as not to put public safety at risk.
Residents also unanimously passed a measure looking to borrow $75,000 over a period of not more than five years for the library. Maxwell said that money would be used to paying off last fall’s roof repairs and other smaller improvements.
Monday nights top Tuesday in Northfield
By Eric Blaisdell