VERNON — For annual Town Meeting, voters are encouraged to bring lawn chairs and required to wear masks.
“The whole process will be new but as far as what they’re voting on should be pretty much the same,” Interim Town Administrator Wendy Harrison said.
Vernonvt.org warns, “This will not be your Mother’s or your Grandmother’s Town Meeting.”
The annual Town Meeting, usually occurring in early March inside Vernon Elementary School, is scheduled for 2 p.m. May 23 on the lawn outside Town Hall. The Select Board approved the date and time in a 4-0 vote.
The change is described on the website as “the result of a newly passed state law which allowed towns to push back their annual meeting dates during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“Select Board members had wanted to find a way of holding an in person meeting this year,” Town Clerk Tim Arsenault stated on the site. “The final date, time and place are the result of numerous conversations with the Vermont Secretary of State’s office, legislators, the Vermont Agency of Commerce, plus numerous town staff and residents. The scheduled date will, no doubt, make someone unhappy, but it was the end result of nearly constant review and compromise over the past three months.”
In addition to masking, participants will answer health-related questions upon checking in. Social distancing rules also will be applied. No food sales or table leafletting will be allowed.
Harrison said the approximately $1.96 million proposed fiscal year 2022 budget would mean an increase in annual municipal taxes of $19.69 for a home valued at $100,000, $39.39 for a home valued at $200,000 and $59.08 for a home valued at $300,000, representing an approximately 2.12 percent increase in taxes.
Less money in taxes will need to be raised than initially projected in this year’s annual Town Report because about $36,900 in the current fiscal year’s budget will be carried over.
“That’s one of the benefits of doing the Town Meeting later in the fiscal year,” Harrison said, adding that there’s more confidence in budget figures as days get closer to the end of fiscal year, which comes at the end of June.
The budget proposes a $21,000 increase for the fire department, which was disbanded last year and rebuilt with help from an advisory committee. Concerns were raised about toxicity, unsafe practices, lack of in-house training, and overall lack of leadership in the department.
Fire Chief Alex Dunklee said the approximately $120,000 department budget includes some extra funds for training and increased stipend amounts for the chief and officers. Those items had been identified as needs early on with the advisory committee.
“The budget was done early in the process of getting the department back open,” Dunklee said. “I think we’re making good progress. We’ve been holding a lot of trainings. We’ve been seeing quite a few folks come out for calls. We still have a long ways to go but we’re still plugging away at it.”
None of the funds nor committee elections in the articles up for consideration will be new to voters. Regarding articles to fund recycling disposal and continue the town’s Pay As You Throw residential garbage collection programs, Select Board Chairman Chris Parker said they come up every year because they are budget line items needing taxpayer approval for funding.
Voters will consider articles proposed to bump funding for the library by $3,652 or 4.18 percent and the Farmland Protection Fund by $5,000 or 33.33 percent.