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Live Blog: Vermont Town Meeting Day 2015

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Oliver Parini
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VPR
Elizabeth Casey of Winooski checks in to vote at The Winooski Senior Center on Tuesday morning for Town Meeting Day.

Town Meeting Day this year is without any major statewide ballot items, but municipal and school budgets are up for voter approval around Vermont.

Follow the votes on town and school budgets from around Vermont, and share results from your own town by tweeting with the hashtag #TMDVT or by emailing vermontedition@vpr.net.

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Part I: VPR's live coverage and analysis on Town Meeting night
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Part 2: VPR's live coverage and analysis on Town Meeting night

Update 8:06 p.m. Unofficial results are in for mayoral races in the cities of Burlington and Rutland. In the Queen City, incumbent Democratic MiroWeinberger defeated Progressive challenger Steve Goodkind by a 5241-1716 vote, according to VPR's Taylor Dobbs. And Rutland voters reelected incumbent Christopher Louras, VPR's Nina Keck reports.

Update 7:19 p.m. Voters in the city of Winooski have passed the school and city budgets, according to Elizabeth Murray of the Burlington Free Press. Murray also reports that Seth Leonard has been elected mayor; Leonard, a city councilor, told VPR in February that he believes the city is at a critical juncture. Winooski voters also voted to join the legal challenge to oppose the basing of F-35s at the Burlington airport, according to Murray.

Update 7:00 p.m. Most polls are closed, and VPR is airing special live Town Meeting Day coverage. Host Bob Kinzel will hear from reporters around the state and take your calls. Listen here, call 800-638-2211 with your local results or email vermontedition@vpr.net.

Update 5:05 p.m. The Upper Valley towns of Bridgewater and Pomfret both voted overwhelmingly in favor of merging school districts. Starting next fall, elementary students in both towns will attend school in Pomfret.

Another school district consolidation discussion is ramping up in Elmore and Morristown, reports VPR's Amy Noyes.

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VPR's Amy Noyes reports on the merger discussions taking place in Elmore and Morristown.

In Elmore, voters approved an advisory vote for the town’s school directors to “continue further merger study” with the Morristown School District by a vote of 79-19.

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Credit Oliver Parini / VPR
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VPR
Election workers Pam Loranger, front, and Charlotte Gardner, back, log absentee ballots for Town Meeting Day at Colchester High School on Tuesday morning.

Elmore currently educates about 20 students in first, second and third grades at Vermont’s only operating one room schoolhouse. The rest of the town’s elementary age students attend school in Morristown. Starting in seventh grade, Elmore students have school choice.

While Elmore’s small school is tax efficient, tuition to secondary schools has caused taxes to spike.

A merger would eliminate school choice in Elmore. All the public school students not at the Elmore Lake School would attend Morristown schools.

Elmore voters against the merger would like to keep school choice for older students. They also worry a combined board would be weighted with Morristown representatives, and may not be committed to keeping Elmore’s small school open in the long run.

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Credit Trent Campbell / Addison Independent
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Addison Independent
Rebecca Holmes raises her hand to be recognized during Salisbury's Town Meeting on Monday night.

Legislation pending in the Statehouse encourages school mergers. Elmore resident J.B. McKinley faults state lawmakers for the Town Meeting vote.

I’m blaming this vote today on the state forcing us to merge, when we don’t necessarily want to merge,” McKinley says. “We were happy with everything. ...Merging with a town you trust and your best friend, in some respects is a great idea. But the idea of linking mergers and redistricting and all that to the loss of tuitioning, which is a tradition in Vermont since 1869, is a wrong thing and a way to take Vermont’s freedom away.”

A few miles up Route 12, an advisory vote was also taken in Morristown. Morristown’s vote was taken by division of the house, and no one stood up in opposition of studying consolidation.

Update 4:18 p.m. Voters in Williamstown have approved a change to the local tax code, VPR’s Peter Hirschfeld reports. The revision is aimed at attracting more businesses to the municipality.

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Credit Angela Evancie / VPR
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VPR
Richmond resident Wright Preston speaks during a discussion about taxes on Richmond's Creamery building at that town's meeting on Tuesday morning.

State law allows towns to collect municipal property taxes on inventory, machinery and other items of value owed by local businesses.

Revenue generated from these taxes brings about $19,000 into Williamstown's coffers every year. But voters on Tuesday decided to do away with the tax, in hopes of attracting economic development.

“In order to keep and promote more businesses coming to town, we felt it would be better money spent not to have it,” said Selectboard Chairman Larry Hebert. “It amounts to just a hair over a half a cent on the tax rate.”

Hebert says a majority of Vermont towns have already done away with the inventory and personal business property. Williamstown voters also approved municipal and road budgets Tuesday.

Update 2:40 p.m. According to reporter Erin Mansfield, residents in Bridgewater and Pomfret voted overwhelmingly in favor of merging the two towns' school districts in favor of a combined school system.

Update 1:40 p.m. Voters in Monkton defeated a proposal to switch the town meeting to be done by Australian ballot instead of by a floor vote.

Selectboard Chairman Stephen Pilcher said the change would "rip the heart out of the town of Monkton."

Not everything is sticking to tradition in the town, though. Monkton voters chose this morning to move next year's town meeting to the Saturday before the first Tuesday in March with the hopes of increasing turnout.

Update 12:55 p.m. "Did anybody bring a cribbage board?" asked moderator Richard Bowen when Braintree Town Meeting business was concluded an hour before the noontime potluck was set to begin. 

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Credit Amy Noyes / VPR
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VPR
Boy Scouts from Troop 876 Palmer Boudreau, left, and Devin Lacasse led the Elmore Town Meeting in the Pledge of Allegiance to start the meeting.

A lower than usual number of voters quickly filled uncontested town offices and approved the budget and the purchase of a town truck, according to VPR's Steve Zind.

An article asking voters to approve the purchase and installation of a solar array on a town building was withdrawn at the request of the select board, which had learned the site wouldn't work. 

Voters took advantage of the hour that remained to ask town officials about a range of issues. They also asked questions of school superintendent Brent Kay, who had arrived early for the school meeting which followed lunch. 

Update 11:46 a.m. Voters in Monkton vigorously debated moving future Town Meetings to Saturday morning, reports VPR's Jane Lindholm. After a voice vote was too close, the voters approved the article by a show of hand vote. Monkton's meeting in 2016 will be on the Saturday morning preceding Town Meeting Day at 10 a.m. 

Update 11:41 a.m. Voters in the town of Weathersfield have decided to start both the annual Town Meeting and the annual school district meeting on the Saturday preceding the first Tuesday in March, beginning next year and continuing until voters decide otherwise, VPR's Betty Smith-Mastaler reports. Article 6 was passed by a voice vote at a floor meeting held on Monday evening, and reflects a growing effort on the part of towns to increase Town Meeting attendance by making its schedule more manageable.

Update 10:43 a.m. Voters are turning out in relatively small numbers this morning in Burlington, where only about six voters came to the polls in the first three hours of voting in the new Ward 8, according to Ward Clerk Keith Pillsbury.

Pillsbury attributed the low in-person turnout to the districts demographics; roughly three quarters of the ward's residents are university students, he said, and the University of Vermont is on spring break right now.

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Credit Oliver Parini / VPR
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VPR
Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger, left, visits Burlington's Ward 8 polling location for Town Meeting Day at the Memorial Auditorium on Tuesday morning.

Pillsbury said he expects a few hundred absentee ballots today, many from students.

Outside the Ward 2 polling place in Burlington's Old North End, Progressive City Councilor Max Tracy was greeting voters this morning. Tracy, who is running unopposed in the ward, said he thought around 100 voters had come to the polls by 9 a.m.

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Credit Amy Noyes / VPR
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VPR
In Morrisville, Jane Campbell, left, and Bunny Merrill take part in two Town Meeting traditions simultaneously: voting and knitting.

In Monkton, Rep. David Sharpe addressed constituents in his role as the chair of the House Education committee.

Sharpe said Monkton's property taxes would be much higher if it needed to fund its school obligations without help from the state, according to VPR's Jane Lindholm.

"There is no town in the state of Vermont that raises all of its school costs through the Homestead tax," he said. "Act 60 and 68 are working pretty well for Monkton."

Voters in Morristown this morning approved a non-binding study to explore the possibility of merging with the Elmore School District, VPR's Amy Kolb Noyes reports. All articles passed in the school district meeting there, but the budget will be decided later by Australian ballot.

And in Elmore, Town Clerk Sharon Draper, Moderator Jon Gailmor and Selectboard Chairman Bob Burley were all reelected this morning.

Update 3/3/15 10:28 p.m. Town Meeting in Rochester was a fairly quiet affair this year, according to a select board member who attended the meeting. The topic that prompted the most discussion was whether the town should divest itself of investments in fossil fuels. Over the years, money bequeathed to the town has been invested and the interest has been used to pay expenses. No motion was made as a result of the discussion.

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Credit Trent Campbell / Addison Independent
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Addison Independent
Ferrisburgh Town Lister Carl Cole speaks from his seat at Town Meeting on Saturday; Town Moderator Donald Bicknell can be seen in the back left. The town approved its municipal budget and will vote on the school budget by Australian ballot on Tuesday.

The meeting also saw the retirement of Larry Strauss from the select board. Strauss served on the board for nine years and was instrumental in Rochester's response to Tropical Storm Irene when the town was isolated by the flooding. Strauss was presented with the key to the town and Jim Bowen was elected to fill the open seat.

Original post 3/3/15 1:29 p.m. Last year’s Town Meeting Day saw more than two dozen school budgets defeated and kicked off a discussion about education funding that lawmakers are working to address in Montpelier this year.

This year, a few towns held meetings early. On Saturday, voters in Ferrisburgh and Starksboro approved municipal budgets, according to local officials. Starksboro voters passed the town’s school budget on Saturday as well. Ferrisburgh voters will vote on the school budget by Australian ballot on Tuesday.

Follow the votes on town and school budgets from around Vermont. Note: Not all towns are currently listed on this chart. If you don't see yours, check back! And share your local results by emailing vermontedition@vpr.net.

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