Mont Vernon talks about town meeting turnout, passes amended budget

MONT VERNON – All of Mont Vernon’s Town Meeting warrant articles passed Saturday, March 15, with slight alterations made to the town’s operating budget, as residents ended the meeting with a lively discussion about dwindling participation in town government.

The Cabinet counted 64 voters at Mont Vernon’s annual Town Meeting, which was held on Saturday. Previously, Town Meetings had been held on Tuesday nights.

Some voters said they wanted to switch the Town Meeting back to Tuesday nights, but Town Clerk Jeanette Vinton strongly disagreed.

“I’d like to give it a chance,” Vinton said. “Tuesday, doing (Town Meeting) at night, really puts a burden on me, my office and the people who count.”

Vinton said she had been losing vote counters in the past because of Tuesday night meetings, which were once held on election day.

“It was wonderful on Tuesday, I was home by 9:30 that night, instead of 3 in the morning,” Vinton said. “And then everybody expects me to be in the office at 9, bright and cheery in order to get information out. It’s really hard, I’m getting old.”

Vinton said the folks who are designated vote counters would prefer to listen to Town Meeting and suggested that participation would decline further if the meetings were moved back to Tuesday.

Vinton suggested bumping the starting time of next year’s Town Meeting to later in the day Saturday, and said a potluck during Town Meeting may help boost participation.

“Don’t give up. This is the first time we’ve done (Saturday),” Vinton said. “Change takes time … Saturday really works good.”

Others in the audience agreed and said they were able to participate in Mont Vernon’s 2014 Annual Town Meeting because it was held on Saturday.

“If Town Meeting continues on Saturday, I’ll continue to come back,” said Megan Brown.

Brown, a 19-year-old university student at Stonehill College in Massachusetts, was the youngest voter at this weekend’s meeting and said she wants to see participation increase in the town of 2,000 residents as well.

“I enjoy being involved and Saturday meetings open up that opportunity,” Brown said. “I’m glad I’m here and able to participate.”

Brown said the Saturday dates allow her to return from college to attend the meeting and said she would rally some of her friends to show up to Village School next year.

“We should care as the younger generation,” Brown said.

Tony Immorlica, a member of Mont Vernon’s Budget Committee, suggested changing the format of Town Meeting also.

“Maybe if we make (Town Meeting) a more social event, we can get even more participation and have the meeting followed by a social event, maybe dinner or lunch,” Immorlica said.

Despite the Saturday meeting, town officials said participation was actually down this year compared to 2013. Last year, there were 96 voters at Town Meeting.

No motion was made to change the day Mont Vernon’s Town Meeting is held.

Moderator David Sturm also said the town has many vacancies on town boards and encouraged Town Meeting attendees to get involved by joining committees.

Sturm said a vacancy for Supervisor of the Checklist exists, describing it as a very important position, and said if nobody expresses interest, they will contact names that received one vote for the position after being written in on the ballot.

The town’s operating budget was approved unanimously at Town Meeting after being cut $14,445 for the originally proposed number. The most discussed proposed cuts were made by the Budget Committee, which proposed halving the town’s $10,000 welfare budget.

The proposed cuts, which were opposed strongly by Selectman John Quinlan, did not pass.

“The select board has no choice but to meet the welfare officer’s figure,” Quinlan said, adding there was no point in reducing the funds.

The final approved operating budget for Mont Vernon’s next fiscal year stands at $2,113,510 and Town Meeting was adjourned by noon.

Bradford Randall can be reached at 594-6557 or brandall@nashuatelegraph.com. Also, follow Randall on Twitter (@telegraph_bradr).