It’s a form of direct democracy that is simply unavailable to 95% of the population of the United States, and one we are particularly proud of.
You can think of Town Meeting as having two parts; Town Meeting and Voting Day. Town Meeting is always the night before Voting Day, which is always the first Tuesday in March.
During Town Meeting, you will hear an annual report from the Town, statements from organizations on the ballot, and comments from residents who wish to speak on items pertaining to the Town Meeting.
The next day is Voting Day. That’s your opportunity as residents of the town to vote for two of your Select Board representatives, school board members, and most importantly, the Town and school budgets and bonds.
This year the Town budget closely mirrors the annual rate of inflation. Keeping the budget increase at or below the rate of inflation was a very difficult task this year as the cost for many of the items the Town buys have increased much higher than the overall rate of inflation — ranging from a 30% higher cost for pavement to diesel fuel which was up 109% by December of 2022. Even something as basic as salt for our roads is up 18%.
We are keenly aware that every tax payer dollar counts. The proposed budget is on view on our Town Meeting page. The budget was reviewed by the Select Board and has been approved by them for presentation to you, the voters, who have the final say on its approval. Town staff and the Town Manager are happy to answer any questions you may have. Our goal is the keep costs as low as possible while providing the needed services that our residents expect.
One bit of good news is regarding two Bond votes for improving our water system. Two areas of our town suffer from low water pressure during high usage events; the central downtown area around Gage Street and the south end area around Jefferson Heights and Crescent Boulevard. Improving those water lines are a requirement of our water permit with the state, and we have been slowly plugging away at the project to the tune of $400,000 per year. The total cost of these needed infrastructure improvements is $5.8 million and the town is asking residents to approve bonds for that purpose. Making these improvements to the water system are a requirement of the town by the State. We have no choice about doing it, but HOW we do it can have a big impact on how much we pay both in the short term and long run.
So what is the good news exactly? The cost to our town budget is actually less per year if we do the work by using a bond. If approved by voters, the bond would be funded through a “Drinking Water State Revolving Funding” loan which is a 30 year repayment plan with only 2% interest. The result is an annual combined payment of just $259,000 per year vs. the current $400,000 a year we are currently paying to do the work piecemeal. Other advantages include having the work done quickly and avoiding future increases in project costs that are inevitable when doing the work slowly over time. And of course those sections of town with water pressure issues will no longer have those problems.
This year, Town Meeting will be on March 6, at 7:00 pm, or immediately following the SWTech (VSU) annual meeting if that runs late. You can vote early; ballots are available at the Town Clerk’s office by February 15. You must request a ballot to vote early, otherwise you can vote in person on March 7th from 7 am to 7 pm at the Fire Facility at 130 River Street or for North Bennington residents, at the old Train Depot on Main Street. We encourage you to participate in your local government and vote to support the budget and bond votes.