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The Valley Reporter
P.O. Box 119
Waitsfield, VT 05673

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Tough call

The Waitsfield Select Board received and accepted a petition this week calling for the town to change the way it adopts its annual budget.

Currently, the budget is discussed and frequently amended from the floor at Town Meeting in March before being voted from the floor.

The proposal is to have the budget be adopted by Australian ballot so that voters could cast ballots throughout the day of Town Meeting.

The board's discussion framed the difficulty of this decision aptly.

"It would be much fairer, but there'd be no discussion," said select board chair Paul Hartshorn, hitting the nail on the head.

It would absolutely be fairer to all taxpayers to give everyone a chance to vote on the budget as opposed to only those who can attend Town Meeting – or that portion of Town Meeting.

But something would definitely be lost and that would be the chance to get together with your neighbors and talk about issues and priorities and what matters to us.

Yes, more people would participate, but what would be the quality of that participation? There is something invaluable about the enforced civility that Town Meeting provides. It creates a framework for discussing issues – including spending – that an Australian ballot can never provide.

Sure, there can be pre-Town Meeting meetings to discuss budgets, but as Waitsfield Select Board members noted this week, those are seldom well-attended meetings and the net result might be to further emasculate Town Meeting.

Waitsfield voters will ultimately decide this issue, either from the floor of Town Meeting this year or by Australian ballot. If passed, it would become effective in 2015.

It's a tough call. More voter participation is always desirable, but is it the best solution if it means another nail in the coffin of Town Meeting participation?


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