Precision Valley Town Meetings
03/06/02 12:00AM By Betty Smith-Mastaler
(Host) As voters went to the polls in towns along the Connecticut River Tuesday, VPR's Betty Smith visited five communities to hear about the major issues and observe the turnout.
(Betty) A half dozen or so voters stood visiting in the morning sun outside the tan brick Bellows Falls Middle School. Inside, Rockingham Town Clerk Doreen Aldrich was sorting absentee ballots:
(Aldrich) "Actually, it's a little slow. I thought that with this question on the utility that there would be more voters turn out. And usually we hear a lot of grumbling about the budgets and we have not heard any grumbling or anything, which kind of surprises both myself and my assistant town clerk."
(Betty) Rockingham voters were deciding whether or not to take the first step toward establishing a town owned and operated hydroelectric utility along with the usual election of town officials and the passage of town and school budgets.
In recent years, Rockingham budgets have been hard to pass, but in the end, Rockingham voters approved the hydroelectric article, the school budgets and an upgrade for the high school phone system.
In Springfield, at the Riverside Middle School, Town Clerk Bonnie Reynolds commented on a similar lack of Town Meeting debate this year:
(Reynolds) "With the last of the machine tool shops closing, I think it's a difficult time for residents in Springfield. So I'm sure there is more discussion about the school budget, but it certainly was not evident last evening."
(Betty) Unlike in Rockingham, Springfield's quiet mood did not result in a uniformly positive vote. The town budget passed but not the school budget.
In Weathersfield, Town Clerk Flo-Ann Dango reported that voter turnout was about average.
Instant run off voting received strong support at the Monday night meeting and there was lots of discussion about a proposal to establish a Recreation Department
(Dango) "We had a man speak out last night at town meeting saying that he was unemployed. He didn't know where his tax money was going to be coming from in the future. Between Windsor and Springfield and all the machine shops closing down, it has played a big role in the economy in this area."
(Betty) Weathersfield voters approved the town budget and a variety of smaller appropriations, but defeated the Recreation Department proposal. As in Rockingham, Dango has noticed a trend in voters this year that she thinks may be related to the events of September 11:
(Dango) "I see more and more younger people coming in to register to vote, wanting to know about things that are going on in town, really interested in the schools and what's happening there."
(Betty) In Windsor, Town Clerk Sandy Jarvis reported attendance appeared to be up at the polls, but it turned out that the voters came out in force to turn down both the town and the school budgets.
(Jarvis) "Very busy, very steady, there's been times when all the booths have been full. I'm not quite sure, I think it's the budget and the taxpayers are concerned because the tax rate is climbing and they're getting out to vote. People have mentioned that because they're out of work now with so many of the area shops closing, that they're concerned about the raise in taxes."
(Betty) But perhaps the heaviest relative turnout of all five towns occurred in Norwich. As part of the Dresden School District, Norwich currently sends its Middle and High School students across the river to school in Hanover, NH.
Unlike towns that simply tuition students to a nearby school, Norwich voters are active participants and voters in the Dresden District, one of the only two-state school districts in the nation.
The two Hanover schools are in need of extensive repair. Dartmouth College is offering to buy the land that the schools are currently on. The College would pay enough money to enable the district to build two brand new schools on land the college is willing to contribute to the project.
Because of the complicated Dresden ballot, results were not available Tuesday night.
For Vermont Public Radio, I'm Betty Smith.