by Irene Wrenner
August 2, 2020
The Selectboard and Village Trustees met jointly on July 28th about merger topics and charter changes but, once again, made no decisions. The dialogue among members was revealing.
Several elected officials responded to the age-old question from Town-outside-the-Village residents about merger benefits: “If we’re giving up tax dollars, what is the Village giving up?”
Village Trustee Raj Chawla believes, “We’re giving up a delay in any kind of [tax] relief that we’re asking for. I mean we’re barely gonna feel it. … I think we’re giving up a lot more than people realize.” https://youtu.be/CsWWmOWN0p8?t=8450
Trustee George Tyler countered: “When you look at what the Village has been giving to the Town for years and years and years, ... you’re asking us what we’re gonna give up?”https://youtu.be/CsWWmOWN0p8?t=8206
Selectboard member Elaine Haney declared, what the Village “would give up is all of their autonomy. They would give up their entire Village government; they would give up their entire ability to make decisions on their own about expenses that occur within their own district. And what they would get [in return] is Australian Ballot.” https://youtu.be/CsWWmOWN0p8?t=7845
Her description of getting-only-when-giving may explain why staff and the boards have resisted, for years, changing from an in-person Town Meeting vote on the budget to an Australian Ballot vote at the polls or by mail, as many other large towns have done.
Haney said, “The leverage point is, if the TOV was willing to vote yes on merger, so that the Village would not have that double taxation, then gaining Australian Ballot for every[one] was a positive ... it’s a negotiation tool. I know that some people would look at that as, ‘you’re withholding this thing we want.’ ” https://youtu.be/CsWWmOWN0p8?t=7794
Charter Change Held Hostage to Merger for Years
A change to Australian Ballot from the Town Meeting Floor Vote
is revealed as a bargaining chip for merger.
The tone of the conversation turned divisive. Regarding the 3+3 Charter Change, Tyler said, “I understand you’ve got your own narrative about it. But … 3,3 hands the TOV a permanent veto over any village initiative. The [TOV] can say forever and ever, we’re gonna lock our funding mechanism in place and there’s nothing you can do about it, no matter how aggrieved and disenfranchised you feel.
"It’s not Democracy -- it’s a Democracy Crusher,” said Tyler.
Selectboard member Pat Murray realized that the TOV is not sold on a higher tax bill, to pay for services they didn’t vote for: “Tax inequity, that shift, that however people want to describe it, but as it is right now, we know that the Village is getting additionally taxed for services they don’t use. Till we find a way to sell that [tax shift], we’re losing the argument about merger.” https://youtu.be/CsWWmOWN0p8?t=9315
Tyler bristled at this nugget being taken out of the merger charter.
He put it this way, “Are we going to go forward together on merger, or are we gonna start taking … unilateral actions on charter changes, specifically ... budget-to-ballot vote just for the Town and revisiting the 3,3 board structure just for the Town, and you know those things in my mind absolutely impact merger.” https://youtu.be/CsWWmOWN0p8?t=7101
Selectboard member Andy Watts has repeatedly asked that popular charter changes not be tethered to the merger decision. He emphasized, “I fully believe that it’s in the purview of the Selectboard to change how the Town votes. … There’s nothing that keeps the Village from changing their charter to go to Australian ballot in parallel. ... The survey was overwhelmingly [74%] … in favor of going to Australian Ballot. We’ve got the opportunity to do it.” https://youtu.be/CsWWmOWN0p8?t=7427
Selectboard member Pat Murray indicated support for moving to Australian ballot but not at the risk of losing it as an incentive to pass merger. “The Australian Ballot voting was talked about, discussed and negotiated as part of a merger plan. To pull it out [of the merger plan] unilaterally is unfair to our negotiating partners.” https://youtu.be/CsWWmOWN0p8?t=7561
Tyler responded to a public comment: “Mr. Signorello said it’s about spreading the Village’s taxes [across the Town]. No, Merger is about trying to help and work with the Town to provide a common benefit to everybody in this community. That’s what merger is about." https://youtu.be/CsWWmOWN0p8?t=8153
Selectboard member Dawn Hill-Fleury highlighted one of the contradictions built into the current merger plan draft. “I understand the [Village wants] Tax Equity, and yet the Village wants to have two separate tax districts.” https://youtu.be/CsWWmOWN0p8?t=9441
After reaching a consensus to table the question of voting on merger in November, conversation turned to the 3+3 charter change.
Tyler voiced concern that the Selectboard, originally opposing the 3+3 charter change, is now discussing bringing it back to the legislature.
Haney emphasized the voters passed this change to our charter. The House Gov Ops Committee did not reject it; they hesitated to act, pending additional information, and a merger vote November. “If merger is not coming in November, then there’s no reason for us not to pursue this.” https://youtu.be/CsWWmOWN0p8?t=13512
She continued forcefully, “Our voters are expecting us to move forward on this. And because our voters approved it, that’s what we need to do!” https://youtu.be/CsWWmOWN0p8?t=13615
This is a reversal. The Chair had resisted the charter change since before Christmas. The Selectboard will consider alterations to “3+3” at their August 3rd Selectboard meeting. It has yet to be determined if the public will recognize their charter change the next time a state legislative body sees it.