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Here's what Vermonters can expect to vote on during Town Meeting Day 2024

A white box with red and blue siding with a pink sign on it that reads "Drop Box Absentee Ballots."
Abagael Giles
Vermont Public
Town Meeting Day is on Tuesday, March 5. Vermonters will see a variety of topics on their ballots this year, from the presidential primary to property taxes.

Break out the beef stew and town reports. It’s that time of year again — Town Meeting Day.

A lot of important local decisions will be made on Tuesday by communities across the state. Vermont Public breaks down what voters can expect to see on their ballots this year.

Vermont Public's Bob Kinzel sat down with Liam Elder-Connors to discuss some of the big and smaller issues on Town Meeting Day ballots across the state. This interview was produced for the ear. We highly recommend listening to the audio. We’ve also provided a transcript, which has been edited for length and clarity.

Liam Elder-Connors: Bob, we've heard a lot about school budget votes and significant property tax increases this year. They seem to be dominating the issues on this Town Meeting Day. What's going on?

Bob Kinzel: They really do, Liam. And this is happening because of a combination of factors including rising healthcare costs, inflation, schools providing more social services to their students, personnel costs and the state system that's used to adjust property values, it's known as the common level of appraisal.

Now, one person with a really unique perspective on this issue is Hartford Rep. Kevin Christie, because he's also the chairman of the Hartford School Board. So, he's feeling the pressure, Liam, from both sides. And he told me that the circumstances surrounding school budget votes this year are very, very different than in previous years.

Rep. Kevin “Coach” Christie: This is our Irene moment in education. And we collectively, the state in its role, and the towns and communities in their role, need to kind of reassess where we're, where we're at.

More from Vermont Public: Your guide to Vermont's Town Meeting Day tradition in 2024

Liam Elder-Connors: Bob, how does Rep. Christie think these unusual factors will affect the outcome of school budget votes?

Bob Kinzel: Liam, he thinks it's going to be a tough year in a lot of communities for the school budgets because he thinks there are going to be a number of towns where folks usually back their local school budgets but this year, people will vote against it — not because they don't support local education, but to send a message to lawmakers.

Rep. Kevin “Coach” Christie: The system, as it stands, is broken. You know, and it's incumbent upon us to figure out, you know, the next step. Not kick the can down the road, not put another Band-Aid on it. You know, we have to be, you know, decisive in that action.

People sit in pew-style seats as natural light comes in from windows on the right of the image
Elodie Reed
Vermont Public
Voters gathered in the Peacham Olde Meetinghouse for Town Meeting Day last year.

Bob Kinzel: Liam, I've reviewed the results of school budget votes over the past 15 years, and on average, roughly 5% are defeated each year. Now, some years it's as high as 14%, some years as low as 1%. So, we'll see where it falls this year and if the results have an impact at the statehouse.

More from Vermont Public: Vermont House passes bill to postpone school budget votes

Liam Elder-Connors: What are some of the other issues you'll be watching as Town Meeting Day results come in?

Bob Kinzel: Well Liam, there's some very big money issues. The Mountain Views School District is seeking a $99 million bond to build a new middle school and high school. This involves the towns of Killington, Woodstock, Reading, Pomfret, Barnard, Bridgewater and Plymouth.

Voters in Swanton Village will consider a $14.8 million bond for a new public safety facility, and Richmond will vote on a $9.8 million bond to bring their town center into compliance with flood regulations.

And as usual, there are a bunch of very local issues, for instance, roughly $600,000 for new fire trucks in Fair Haven and Westford, and $365,000 for a new ambulance in Charlotte.

Liam Elder-Connors: And Bob, for the first time ever, 16 and 17-year-old voters in Brattleboro will be able to cast their ballots on local issues. What's going on there?

Bob Kinzel: That's right, Liam. This provision was actually passed twice by Brattleboro voters and adopted by the legislature, but Gov. Phil Scott vetoed it both times. But the second time, lawmakers overrode his veto. So, it's going into effect. Town Clerk Hilary Francis told me she recently went to the high school to address a school assembly about this issue.

Hilary Francis: So that I can explain sort of the logistics of registering to vote and how Brattleboro's representative town meeting is unique in the state, and how people can get involved and not just vote, but also run for local offices. Anything that they can vote in, they can run for.

More from Vermont Edition: How Brattleboro is prepping for 16- and 17-year-olds to vote on Town Meeting Day for the first time

Bob Kinzel: Now Liam, right now we don't have any 16 or 17-year-olds running for office, but they could be in the near future, and other towns are watching this situation. In fact, this year, the town of Berlin will also be considering a motion to allow 16 and 17-year-olds to vote on local issues. So, there could be a statewide trend developing here.

A person stands up in the middle of a crowd of people seated on folding chairs
Elodie Reed
Vermont Public
Elmore residents met in person for town meeting in 2023, for the first time since 2020.

Liam Elder-Connors: And some communities will be electing a new mayor. Can you talk about where that's happening?

Bob Kinzel: Sure. In Burlington, voters will be electing their first new mayor in 12 years with Miro Weinberger stepping down.

Democrat Joan Shannon and Progressive Emma Mulvaney-Stanak are the two main front runners. So this means Burlington is very likely to have its first woman mayor.

And in Montpelier, incumbent Jack McCullough is seeking his first full term in office. He faces Dan Jones, who has been very active in climate change programs in Montpelier. You know, Liam, the city is still recovering from those devastating floods in July, and there are questions about some long-term infrastructure issues as well.

More from Vermont Edition: Meet the candidates for Burlington mayor

Liam Elder-Connors: Bob, Vermont is also holding its presidential primary on Town Meeting Day. What are you watching this election cycle?

Bob Kinzel: Well, Liam, it's part of the 15 states Super Tuesday primary election, this is a big deal. Now, Vermont doesn't have party registration. A person can choose to vote in either the Republican or the Democratic primary, but to comply with national party rules, it will be recorded which primary ballot you are selecting with an "R" or a "D" on the checklist right next to your name.

Now, it appears likely that President Biden will win the Democratic primary, but the outcome of the Republican contest between former President Donald Trump and former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley is less certain. Matt Dickinson is a political science professor at Middlebury College. He thinks the Vermont Republican Party is split between its pro-Trump supporters and a more moderate group represented by Gov. Phil Scott and former Gov. Jim Douglas.

Matthew Dickinson: Most notably, in these low turnout but very important primary contests in which base candidates who are more aligned with the populace side of the party that Donald Trump wing have gotten a foothold even in a blue state like Vermont and I suspect that says something about the composition of the Republican Party. in Vermont now. There's a struggle going on for the soul of the Republican Party in Vermont.

More from Vermont Public: Looking to catch 'lightning in a bottle,' Nikki Haley stumps in Vermont

Bob Kinzel: So Liam, the results could give us a pretty indication of the state of the Vermont Republican Party these days.

Liam Elder-Connors: What are some other important items being decided on Town Meeting Day?

Bob Kinzel: Well, voters in Rutland will consider a petition to ban the use of fluoride in the city's water system.

You know, there are a number of towns that are considering ending their floor meetings and switching to an Australian ballot and these towns include Cavendish, Georgia, Jericho, Randolph and Westford. And this is a big deal because it determines how they govern themselves.

And several towns are considering imposing a local option tax to raise new revenue, including Berlin, Hartford, Londonderry, Woodstock, Pittsford and Halifax. Now under this approach, the community gets to keep 70% of the new revenue and 30% has to be sent to the state.

And my favorite, Liam, is in Brookfield, where voters will be asked to give a $500 bonus to members of the road crew. The town morning recognizes "Tim, Ritchie and Rob as appreciation for their efforts in the repair of our roadways during and following the July storm." You know, it doesn't get much more local than that.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

Corrected: March 5, 2024 at 5:42 PM EST
This article has been updated to correct the identification of the town voting on $500 bonuses for road crew members. It is Brookfield.
Bob Kinzel has been covering the Vermont Statehouse since 1981 — longer than any continuously serving member of the Legislature. With his wealth of institutional knowledge, he answers your questions on our series, "Ask Bob."
Liam is Vermont Public’s public safety reporter, focusing on law enforcement, courts and the prison system.