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Budget-to-Ballot Question Goes to Town Voters

8/18/20 Selectboard Meeting Rundown

Fans of Town Meeting relish the opportunity to ask pointed questions within a community conversation that results in a community decision.


Losing Town Meeting would mark the end of a hundred-year-plus New England tradition, made famous by Norman Rockwell in his “Freedom of Speech”.


by Ken Signorello & Irene Wrenner

August 18, 2020



The Selectboard voted unanimously at their August 18th meeting to put this question to the voters: “Shall the Town of Essex adopt its annual budget by Australian ballot?” 


This ballot item will give voters the chance to move from a floor vote on the Town Budget to a vote at the polls next March.


Many residents -- including a grassroots effort known as the Essex Governance Group (EGG) -- have waited years for this opportunity.  A robust 74% of residents surveyed last summer said they wanted Australian Ballot voting on the budget.  Until now, both governing boards have resisted such a move, preferring to use Australian Ballot as an incentive to make merger more attractive.  


The Village Trustees warned the same question for the Village Budget at their August 11th meeting. If voters approve, both the Village and Town will be voting for their budgets on Australian ballot, come March 2021, with or without COVID constraints.


Large towns have tended to move away from such floor votes in recent decades. The upside is that more people weigh in on the bottom line.  The downside of a ballot vote is that, if it fails, the Selectboard has received no input on what should be changed and why.


The main reason to move away from a floor vote is that only a few hundred people approve the budget each year at Town Meeting. Those who are out-of-town, or working, or ill that night have no opportunity to weigh in. The COVID pandemic has brought this into sharp focus. 


The traditional Town Meeting format lets each voter act as a legislator for one night per year, making motions to increase or decrease the budget before the night is out. Along the way, discussions tease out why the Selectboard has recommended the preliminary bottom line.

Attendees leave the meeting with a better understanding of what is being spent and why.

Other actions:

Jeff Theis was appointed to the Winooski Valley Parks District (WVPD) Board of Trustees.


The Selectboard relinquished its right of first refusal on 92 Lost Nation Road, a 127-acre parcel, under the Town Farm and Open Lands Contract.


A letter of clarification on the 3+3 Charter Change will be sent to the VT House Government Operations Committee.

All actions were approved unanimously.

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