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Waitsfield receives petition calling for changing in budget voting procedure

Waitsfield voters have petitioned the select board to have the town's budget adopted by Australian ballot versus from the floor at Town Meeting.

The select board, at its December 9 meeting, received the petition with 83 valid signatures which is more than the 5 percent of registered voters needed to bring a petition. The petition was brought by Deri Meier.

The board agreed to put the petitioned article on the Town Meeting warning, but board members were divided on whether it was the right thing to do.

Board chair Paul Hartshorn advised the board that it is a legal petition and once the wording had been checked with the secretary of state the town would have to act to accept it.

Board member Scott Kingsbury said he favored voting on the budget by Australian ballot because it would allow more people to vote. He said that for some people the need to work during the day meant they didn't get to vote on their town budget.

"I'd like to hear what people have to say about the idea of changing to Australian ballot. But what if the budget gets turned down? If the budget is voted by Australian ballot and it is turned down, we'd be operating without an approved budget even longer than we currently do. Our year starts with the calendar year and we already spend the first month of the year spending money that has not been approved by voters until Town Meeting Day," board member Bill
Parker said.

"Only a couple hundred people, or maybe 150 people, vote at Town Meeting. We might get 500 people voting on the budget if it were Australian ballot. It would be much fairer, but there'd be no discussion," Hartshorn said.

"I see the validity of this, but I worry because the only real time we can get a lot of people together is for Town Meeting. There'd be no opportunity for the public forum," said board member Logan Cooke.

"I think the way to include more people is to switch," Kingsbury said.

"I don't think our Town Meeting participation has gone down that much. One of the major reasons people come to Town Meeting is to understand the budget and the process," Parker said.

"Right now you have a system where a relatively small amount of people are making the decision for the majority," Meier pointed out.

"We vote a million dollar budget in 30 minutes. You might find your participation grows to 800 to 900 if we vote by Australian ballot," Kingsbury added.

"And then how many people won't come to Town Meeting?" Cooke asked.

The board asked Meier what kind of feedback he received while petitioning.

"Basically people were saying that they didn't go to Town Meeting because 'I have to sit there and listen to people mouth off about stupid stuff; thank god you're doing something,'" Meier recounted.

"Before I started the petition I polled some folks I knew and talked to the secretary of state. It's a growing trend across the board. There's a petition being filed in Warren and Waitsfield to use Australian ballots for school budgets as well," he added.

Town administrator Valerie Capels will explore whether the proposal to switch methods of adopting the budget could be voted from the floor at Town Meeting or by Australian ballot.

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