WILLIAMSTOWN — The slimmed down town reports just mailed to voters could mark the end of an era because if the folks who are now receiving them agree they’ll only be mailed upon special request this time next year.
Though it’s too late to ask the question on Town Meeting Day, a Select Board concerned about cost and waste is ready to present voters with a proposal that would relieve the town of the responsibility of mailing the annual reports to every voter every year.
It is a costly and cumbersome exercise that is complicated by the fact that the most economical option for mailing the town reports — bulk mailing them to voters with Williamstown’s 05679 ZIP code — misses many voters.
Not all Williamstown voters have the same ZIP code, leaving some out of the bulk mailing loop that is now being used. That includes those who share ZIP codes with neighboring Graniteville (05654), South Barre (05670), and Northfield (05663). The list is somewhat longer than that based on the personal preferences of voters who have their mail sent to post office boxes in Barre and Montpelier.
In an era when town reports start out as digital documents that are turned into hard copies by printers many Vermont communities have shifted away from mailing them to voters. That has long been the practice in Barre and more recently in Montpelier, where hard copies of the reports are available and digital versions are posted on municipal websites.
Williamstown hasn’t made that shift and board members told can’t without first obtaining the blessing of voters.
The board appears poised to ask the question and while it won’t happen on March 3 when voters will be asked to approve municipal and school budgets and settle local elections, an April vote isn’t out of the question.
Those opposed to a recently adopted ordinance that would open many town roads up for use by all-terrain vehicles are circulating a petition that would force a special vote on the new regulation. The deadline for submitting that petition is Feb. 26 and if voters are able to collect the signatures of roughly 100 registered voters – 5 percent of the checklist – a special election will be held in April.
Town Manager Jackie Higgins said the “mail or not to mail” question with respect to the town report could be tacked on to that ballot, or added to the for the August primary or the general election in November.
“We’ve got options,” Higgins said, who noted that despite a relatively recent attempt to save money be sending one town report to each household the mailing costs typically exceed $1,000 and many of the of booklets never make it out of the post office.
According to Higgins, hundreds of the town reports are discarded by voters who don’t want them, but receive them automatically. That’s just at the local post office, where Higgins said town officials were once able to retrieve the reports that were tossed, but are no longer permitted to due to a change in postal regulations.
In order to alter the town’s current practice voters must agree to give the town the option of mailing notice the reports are available at least 30 days before the annual election. The notice could be in the form of a post card and hard copies of the report would available at the town offices, the library, and select locations around town, as well as at town meeting.
Voters who want a copy mailed to them would have the right to make that request, but a blanket mailing to all voters would no longer be required.
Town Clerk Barbara Graham predicted some would ask for a copy of the report to mailed and others would make sure to pick one up, notwithstanding the fact many are routinely thrown away.
“Not everybody wants them, but for the older generation it’s like the bible to them,” she said of a booklet that includes a copy of the town audit, reports of local officials, and the information including lists of local births, deaths and those delinquent on the their property taxes.