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Town Meeting 2014 is next Tuesday, March 4, and the debate promises to be lively throughout The Valley.
Voters in Warren will consider offsetting school costs (and hence property taxes) by contributing funds from the Green Mountain National Forest to Warren Elementary School.
Voters in all Valley towns will be grappling with the complex algebraic education funding system that multiplies the effects of small cost increases and does the same for level funding and reducing school budgets so that all school budgets result in increased taxes. Expect heated and emotional debate in the face of well-crafted budgets and high-performing schools and students.
Duxbury voters have to grapple with the question of how it is that the town can't account for $272,000 in funds it still owes for Tropical Storm Irene repairs and whether the town clerk's position should be cut from four days a week to three.
And in Waitsfield, those present will take up the thorny issue of whether the town and school budget should continue to be voted from the floor of Town Meeting or whether they should be voted by Australian ballot. And that's a difficult question.
At the crux of Town Meeting is the concept that people gather as a community to discuss and plan and make decisions for their town. At the heart of that concept is that people gather and discuss face to face, publically and respectfully making their opinions known in an open forum. That has real value. That has historic and traditional value.
Those who would shift to Australian ballot argue that it allows more people to participate and that is true. But at what cost? At what cost should a town do away with a public forum that brings people together to make decisions? What is the price of that lost discussion at Town Meeting? What is the cost of losing face-to-face interactions over whether to buy a grader, conserve land, pave a road or put the power underground?
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.
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?