Plymouth Selectboard decides to put Municipal Bond Article to a revote

PLYMOUTH, Vt. Photo provided.

PLYMOUTH, Vt. – The majority of the Nov. 21 meeting was spent discussing Article 1a and Article 1b from November’s ballot. Both articles were approved by a majority vote, but there was reportedly a lot of confusion among voters.

The proposed Municipal Bond of up to $800,000 in additional funds was based on the estimated cost increase for the weatherization and renovation project, which had been previously approved with a budget of $950,000. Although the town was trying to be clear by including both articles, the board admitted the language was confusing, and that only Article 1a should have appeared on the ballot.

Plymouth resident Carol Goodwin said, “The ballot was very confusing. I believe it should have been an either/or, not two separate articles with a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ vote. What were you trying to determine?”

Board member Rick Kaminski explained that Article 1a was to determine whether the town should borrow up to $800,000 to complete the renovation project. “We said ‘up to’ because we didn’t have the audit at the time, so the final cost could end up being less than that.”

Board Chair Jay Kullman explained that Article 1b “said the $950,000 we promised, that would complete the project, [now won’t cover all of the expenses], and felt the voters should acknowledge that.”

Goodwin stated, “I don’t think there’s a person in town who understood what the question was or how to answer it. Legally the town has approved the $800,000 bond, but what’s more important, is there are a lot of people in town now that are going to say, ‘that’s not how I voted.’ I believe it’s important to get more input from the town.” She continued, “I think we need a revote. I don’t know if there’s another way around it.”

Planning Committee and Zoning Board member Bruce Pauley commented, “It’s easy in retrospect to see how it may have been worded better.” He agreed with Goodwin that there should be a revote.

Asked if the town attorney had given a legal opinion, Kullman said yes, summarizing, “1a was what the voters understood, [asking for an $800,000 bond], 1b is an advisory vote since the voters have already approved the funds [of $950,000].” Kullman said the attorney felt that a “reasonable voter understands what’s been happening,” and that this boils down really to “a mechanical or technical issue that can be remedied by the legislative body.”

Pauley mentioned that at the special meeting held on Nov. 7, during the discussion to try to clarify the language of the articles, someone on the board had said, “Whichever gets the most votes, that’s the one we’re going to go for.”

Kaminski admitted that he was the one who’d said that, and he now believes he said that in error. “Rethinking it,” Kaminski said, “I made a mistake when I said that.”

Article 1a, the Municipal Bond vote, resulted in 161 “Yes” votes to complete the project in its entirey. Article 1b received 194 “Yes” votes to move forward with the original budget, which will complete only parts of the project.

Kaminski continued, “I feel bad there was so much confusion, and I’m inclined to do a revote.” But he also added, “If we do this, and put things back to March, we can’t commit to the estimate, costs will go up. And it could ultimately end up costing more money for the voters.”

Resident Tina Fletcher questioned, “We can’t have a vote until March? We don’t need more discussion, we need clarification, maybe a vote could happen sooner?”

Kaminski wondered if they could call a special meeting to hold a floor vote. “We would need to warn well in advance, to try to get more people to attend.”

But most people felt there wouldn’t be enough attendees to properly represent the town.

Goodwin asked, “Is it not possible to do a ballot vote? Make sure that their vote represented their intention. Go with just the original or borrow the additional amount.”

Kullman said that option would create a lot of work for the town staff, and the town would incur additional costs. “Maybe we could mail ballots out? But that’s another cost out there.”

Cappellini suggested possibly combining mail-in ballots with a town meeting, to generate maximum town involvement. He asked, “Is that something we could do, legally?”

Local resident Margo Marrone said, “People didn’t understand that we could proceed with what was already appropriated, without approving both. Things can be done with the original $950,000 prior to the approval of the bond, correct?”

Temporary Town Clerk Beth Graves Lombard responded, “There are already contractors scheduled, who may be difficult to get back if we postpone.”

Kullman offered, “We could potentially do a vote by mid-January. And we could potentially start a partial project.”

Kaminski proposed aiming to start on Dec. 7, sign the contract with the contractors, and begin buying materials.

Plymouth resident Anne Brown voiced her opinion, “The attorney has suggested the majority vote on the bond was approved, and he felt comfortable to go forward with it. My two cents is that we go ahead with it all, if the attorney’s approved, and the voters approved.”

The majority of those at the meeting and the board agreed that they had an obligation to clear up the confusion.

Mark Fletcher said, “You could argue that because of the confusion, that the town overwhelmingly voted on something, and since ‘b’ is more popular, seems like we could at least start down the path of getting the $950,000 bid up and rolling, since that’s something agreed on by the majority of voters.”

With a six or seven month timeline for the bond project, Goodwin said, “by May, you would have a much better idea of how much you would need to raise, so maybe we could know if it would be $800,000 or $600,000.”

Kullman brought the issue to a close. He motioned for a revote, “legally, and as quickly as possible, by rewording the language and making it a clear choice.” Kaminski seconded the motion.

Mark Fletcher added, “The $950,000 is done and settled. The only remaining question is do we want to approve or disapprove the $800,000, yes or no.” All were in agreement.

During the election on Nov. 8, by a margin of 161 to 129, Plymouth residents voted “Yes” on Article 4, permitting the operation of licensed retail cannabis sales within the municipality. In cooperation with the Vermont State Cannabis Control Commission, Mike Coleman, Chair of the Plymouth Planning Commission, will work on zoning requirements for parking, lighting, and security. The State Cannabis Commission will run background checks on any applicants and share the results with the board.

Salt Ash Land, LLC has applied with the town, Coleman said everything would be presented in a public hearing on Tuesday, Dec. 6, and he planned to conduct a site visit to the retail location earlier on the same day.

The board, with input from those in attendance, determined that the fee for this type of business should be the same as a liquor license fee. Kaminski called for a motion to match the fees, as well as to accept the results of the background check from the state rather than have the board conduct its own. Board member Keith Cappellini, who has been taking the lead on the cannabis issue, seconded the motion.

Regarding the Town Audit Review, Kullman said it was complete, and there would soon be copies for the residents to view. He also mentioned a lister proposal for digitized records, at a cost of $3,000 for the setup, and an annual fee. Kullman said the town could see savings by adopting this system, and mentioned Ludlow as an example of one town that put this in place.

The town needs to hire a permanent Town Clerk. “Beth has stepped in for Cindy, after her departure, but she’s filling in temporarily.” Kullman said. “There needs to be a Town Clerk. It’s normally an elected position, but we can reach out to the community to see if anyone is interested.”

The board discussed the possibility of changing the statute that requires an election, arguing that the position is an important one, and needs the skills to perform the duties, and should be a hired role, as opposed to elected.

“It would be a benefit to the town to have that position as an unelected position. So, when you need to hire someone, you can,” said a resident. The board agreed to advertise for the position.

Kullman announced a pending lawsuit against the town. The selectboard meeting was ajourned and moved into an executive session to discuss.

The board will meet again on Monday, Dec. 5, at 6 p.m.


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