Ludlow defeats Australian ballot article

Ludlow Selectboard and moderator Martin Nitka at the Ludlow Town Meeting March 2, 2020
Ludlow Selectboard and moderator Martin Nitka at the Ludlow Town Meeting March 2, 2020. Photo by Sharon Huntley

LUDLOW, Vt. – There was a light turnout of 71 voters at the Ludlow Town Meeting Monday, March 2 with moderator Martin Nitka able to fly through much of the town’s fiscal business, including approving the town’s $4,082,863 budget in the first half-hour of Ludlow’s Town Meeting.

Things stalled at the discussion of Article 9, asking for an appropriation of $66,000 to support the Ambulance Service. Voters expressed widespread support and appreciation of the service with resident Sharon Bixby proposing to raise the appropriation to $100,000.

Board Chairman Bruce Schmidt expressed his support of the proposed amount of $66,000 saying that the Selectboard had talked about the Ambulance Service extensively. “We’ve looked at this number…and I think it’s the right number to begin with,” he said. He expressed confidence that changes in the service including increased rates and outsourcing billing were going to help make the number work.

Moderator Nitka said that a 50% increase was not “germane” to the article and that he would not put forth the amended article for vote. Despite an attempt to overrule the moderator, the majority voted to support his position and the proposed increase went no further.

An additional amendment to increase the appropriation to $75,000 was also voted down and the original article was approved for $66,000.

The longest discussion centered on Article 11, which proposed that all public questions, including town budget, be decided by Australian ballot in all future votes. The article was submitted by petition in early January by Linda and Dean Alexander and is thought to be the result of frustrations arising during a special town vote earlier in the year concerning the purchase of the Black River High School building.

Herb Van Guilder asked for the article to be voted on by paper ballot but could not garner another six people to agree, and the article discussions began.

Schmidt spoke against the article encouraging the Selectboard to pursue development of a town charter, which would allow the Selectboard to specify how issues would be voted on.

Dean Alexander, one of the authors of the article, read a prepared statement in support of moving to an Australian ballot, pointing to low turnout at Town Meeting, which results in less than 5% of the population deciding issues for the town. He said that moving to Australian ballot would allow as many citizens as possible to vote, including use of absentee ballots, and stressed that it would not eliminate discussion of issues, which would still happen at an informational meeting. He ended his statement by saying, “We are better served when more voices are heard.”

Approximately 20 separate people spoke about the issue with two-thirds expressing views against the article. Several people felt that the Town Meeting format was a historic aspect of Vermont government that they would not want to lose. Others expressed concern that voters who did not attend a town informational meeting would vote on issues not knowing the details.

Those who spoke in favor of moving to Australian ballot cited difficulty in attending Town Meeting especially for seniors and that there was no absentee ballot available.

After approximately 35 minutes of discussion, the vote was taken and the article was defeated by a strong majority.

State Senators Dick McCormick and Alice Nitka were both in attendance but declined to make a formal statement due to the length of the meeting. State Representative Logan Nicoll spoke briefly, pointing voters to an informational pamphlet he provided with an update on the Legislative session.

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