All-day voting by Australian ballot for town and school elections along with school district business starts at 7 a.m. in the school gym until 7 p.m. overseen by new Town Clerk Karen Petrovic, who was named to the position last fall following former Town Clerk Carla Lawrence’s retirement. Petrovic is on the ballot running for the clerk and treasurer positions unopposed.
With the Waterbury Select Board will be the community’s new Municipal Manager Tom Leitz for his first town meeting. Leitz was hired last fall and succeeded longtime manager Bill Shepeluk who retired at the end of December.
The meeting will resume its pre-COVID-19-pandemic format with a list of articles to be debated and decided upon by those gathered for the meeting. The past two years have skipped the in-person gatherings with all business decided upon by paper ballots available all day for voters and as a result, there was greater voter participation.
The Waterbury Select Board was very aware of that development and debated whether to continue that practice this year as allowed by state law or to return to the customary community gathering. They compromised and put on the town meeting warning an agenda item to discuss “Town Meeting Day format and consideration of alternatives” for the future.
They hope to begin a community conversation to see if changes may be made to still honor the Vermont tradition while making town meetings more accessible to more citizens. The item is just for discussion — any changes to the meeting format for the future would need to be voted on by the community at an in-person town meeting (either the annual March meeting or a special meeting called at another time of year).
At its regular meeting last Monday, the Select Board reviewed plans for conducting town meeting with town Moderator Jeff Kilgore. They commented on how this item comes at the end of Tuesday’s agenda and how they hope those in attendance will stay for the discussion
“My number-one concern is to acquire the maximum input from the public on that issue,” board member Chris Viens said.
Board Chair Mike Bard asked Kilgore if he would consider highlighting early in the meeting that there is to be a discussion for future town meeting logistics so those in attendance are aware.
Kilgore said he is hesitant to emphasize any individual item on the warning. “People can read,” he said. “If they have an interest, they’ll stay.”
Getting to the business on the Town Meeting Day warning, voters present will be asked to vote on whether to extend the terms of office for the town clerk and treasurer from one to three years. Housekeeping items include accepting reports from town officials and setting due dates for tax payments.
The most important items voters will decide during the in-person meeting are setting the town’s budget for this year. Waterbury’s fiscal year aligns with the calendar year with tax payments typically due in August and November.
The 2023 budget is presented on the town meeting warning in articles that cover the general government, town highway, and library budgets along with capital budget spending.
In his report in the town Annual Report, (pp.16-21), Municipal Manager Tom Leitz offers a detailed breakdown of budget highlights. Overall, the $7 million budget represents an increase of 5.8% over the 2022 budget of $6.7 million. It includes an operating budget of just under $5.3 million and $1.7 million added to capital funds.
It anticipates a tax rate of $0.5439 compared with 53 cents in 2022. Last year’s taxes, however, came in slightly under the anticipated revenue by $36,000, the report notes. The tax rate will be set in the summer based on a finalized property grand list calculation after Town Meeting Day.
Some key items in the proposed budget that do not affect the tax rate, are the line items for which federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds will be spent. Waterbury has received $1.54 million from the federal economic recovery program sparked by the pandemic. Uses for the funds must be decided by the end of 2024 and they must be spent by the end of 2026.
In 2022, some of those funds were put to use: voters approved $100,000 to the Ice Center and the Select Board approved $50,000 for CVFiber and $95,000 for the town highway budget. That left just under $1.3 million.
Town officials late last year sent a survey to town residents for community input regarding priorities for spending the remaining ARPA funds. More than 500 responses were collected with strong support for infrastructure investments.
The budget for 2023 contains allocations of ARPA funds totalling $991,000:
$435,000 for two bridge projects, bridges over the Thatcher Brook on Kneeland Flats Road and on Armory Drive.
$200,000 for a townwide property reappraisal
$150,000 to the Edward Farrar Utility District to help make up for some $300,000 in customer fees it waived during the pandemic
$100,000 to Downstreet Housing and Community Development to put towards construction of affordable housing at 51 S. Main Street.
$76,000 for Waterbury Ambulance Service to put towards its new ambulance station project
$30,000 to put toward maintenance on town gravel roads
These allocations will leave about $310,000 left to be spent from the town’s ARPA funds.
A series of articles outlines requests from 25 local and regional nonprofit organizations and agencies seeking contributions from tax dollars that voters are asked to approve. Those for less than $2,000 are grouped together in one question while the larger ones listed as separate items to be voted upon individually. Together those requests if approved would amount to just over $39,000 in the 2023 budget.
The largest single special article is for $6,500 for the Waterbury Area Senior Center. That represents the increase in the organization’s request this year. Another $32,500 is allocated to the center as a line item in the town budget for this year, the same amount it received in 2022.
Other individual requests are: $4,000 for The Children’s Room; $3,000 for Washington County Mental Health; $2,500 each for Waterbury Local Energy Action Partnership (LEAP) and Waterbury Area MakerSphere Cooperative; $2,383 for Green Mountain Transit; and $2,000 each for the American Red Cross and Central Vermont Adult Basic Education.
On the paper ballots voters can cast anytime between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. are elections to fill town offices and two Harwood School Board seats. The only contested race is the election to fill two one-year terms on the Waterbury Select Board which has three candidates: incumbents Roger Clapp and Chris Viens and first-time candidate Kane Sweeney. Incumbent Alyssa Johnson is on the ballot unopposed seeking a three-year term after serving a one-year term. See more from the Select Board contenders in Waterbury Roundabout’s candidate survey here.
Other offices to be filled on the ballot include positions on the Library Commission, Cemetery Commission, Board of Listers.
Voters also will receive ballots to vote on the Harwood Unified Union School District budget questions.
For the first time, there will be a separate ballot for local voters to weigh in on the budget for the Central Vermont Career Center which is the vocational and technical education center that Harwood students attend in Barre.
Other special features
Town Meeting Day also affords an opportunity to capture community attention for other issues. For example, Waterbury’s two state Reps. Tom Stevens and Theresa Wood plan to attend to share an update from Montpelier including a resolution recently adopted by the House and Senate honoring former Waterbury Municipal Manager Bill Shepeluk.
The Waterbury Area Food Shelf will be collecting non-perishable items at the school entrances all day. Voters coming to town meeting or just to vote can drop off donations. Food Shelf Director Sara Whitehair says popular items in demand include hearty soups like Progresso or Campbell’s Chunky; coffee, tea and hot chocolate; shelf-stable milk; canned meals such as Chef Boyardee, beef stew, hash, etc.; toiletries including shampoo, conditioner, lotion, Q-tips, etc.
Harwood Unified Union School District along with the town of Waterbury and The Children’s Room have organized what they hope will be an annual addition to Town Meeting Day. The HUUSD Community Health Fair will be set up in the school cafeteria from 9 a.m. to noon.
The event is aimed to connect community members to various resources and education regarding health and wellness for individuals and families.
A number of local agencies, groups and organizations will have representatives and information available including: Let’s Grow Kids, the Waterbury Public Library, Capstone Community Action, Waterbury Ambulance, Washington County Mental Health, Central Vermont Medical Center, Jazzercise Waterbury, Hannah’s House, the Green Mountain Club and Downstreet Housing & Community Development.
Staff from the Waterbury Area Senior Center will have lunch available by donation and local Girl Scouts are planning to have a sales table for cookies from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.
More information: Find the Town Meeting Day warning, the Waterbury Annual Report, sample ballots for town and school voting on the town website in the Town Clerk section under Voting and Elections. Physical copies of the town report are available around town and at the town offices and the Waterbury Public Library.
Harwood Unified Union School District’s annual report is online at HUUSD.org.
Find more Town Meeting Day coverage on the Waterbury Roundabout Town Meeting Day page.