Now that 351 of Waitsfield’s 1,448 registered voters cast ballots against a proposal for a $1.6 million bond to build new town offices on a parcel of land at the north end of the village – there’s no clear path forward.
On Town Meeting Day, March 5, only 588 of the town’s 1,448 registered voters took the time to vote by Australian ballot on the bond vote article – a surprisingly small and very disappointing voter turn-out.
The proposed location for Waitsfield’s town offices was controversial, with a vocal group of residents advocating that the town renovate the former Methodist church in the village – for a significantly higher price – $750,000 to $1 million more than the estimated cost of building new.
To argue that a no vote on the proposed bond to build from scratch is tantamount to an overwhelming voter mandate to renovate the church for town offices is illogical. Only 351 people voted against the bond proposal and 229 voted for it. That’s a 60/40 percent split against or for the proposal. That is not a mandate.
That leaves the majority of Waitsfield’s voters – 860 of them – out the equation. And that’s a shame. It was an important decision and it should have been made – at a minimum – by at least half of the town’s registered voters versus so very, very few of them.
What’s next is anyone’s guess. The town offices are still located in a cramped basement space without handicapped access or a public restroom.
Those offices are still in a flood-prone area (twice in 13 years) if not an officially mapped floodplain. The town vault is still significantly undersized and the town records need to be protected.
The newly configured select board must now address the issue – and that newly configured select board was reconfigured by the same disappointingly small turnout that cast ballots on the town office proposal.
Whatever comes next – and something will have to – more voters must be brought to the booth on Election Day so that the town’s next course of action can succeed.