LUDLOW, Vt. – The April 4 Ludlow Town Meeting, following their traditional in-person format with voting on the floor, lasted just shy of two hours with voters ultimately approving all 12 articles including the town budget for $4,253,412. The original town meeting date in early March had been delayed in hopes that Covid restrictions would lift to allow for in-person participation.
Town Moderator Marty Nitka directed the proceedings that included 90 attendees, 79 of which were registered Ludlow voters.
During the discussion on Article 6, which concerned setting the tax rate and approving the $4 million town budget, Board Chairman Bruce Schmidt spoke briefly to the considerations that led to the approximate 3% budget increase, which include pay increases for town employees and the addition of a building and grounds department support position. “In this town, employees are our biggest asset,” he said. Schmidt also added that the Board and municipal manager had worked extremely hard to keep to a budget that the town could support. There was little follow up discussion and the article was approved quickly.
Three of the articles took up the bulk of discussion: Article 7, over how the $25,000 designated for the Recreation Department should be spent; Article 9, over the $312,085 of additional funding being requested for the Ludlow ambulance service; and Article 11, concerning whether to approve the proposed Town Charter.
Article 7 outlined the proposed amount of $112,500 to be put into the Capital Fund to support vehicle and equipment purchases, town building maintenance and repairs, and fund programs. The bulk of the assigned amounts went unquestioned including the $30,000 each for the highway equipment fund and fire equipment fund, and various smaller amounts for building maintenance of the Ludlow Community Center, Black River Senior Center, former Black River High School Building, and Ludlow Town Hall. The article also included $25,000 allocated for the Ludlow Recreation Department, which brought the most scrutiny.
Ludlow resident Gary McIntyre made note that in prior selectboard discussions, that $25,000 had been specified for dredging the pond and putting in sand for a beach at the West Hill area. He made an amendment to the motion to include that the funds be used specifically for that purpose.
Recreation Committee member Marissa Selleck spoke to the fact that this was part of a much larger project but it had been broken down into phases, and expected the dredging and sanding to cost approximately $20,000 with the additional $5,000 to cover costs for a possible access to get the proper equipment to the site.
Schmidt said that although he had critiqued the timing of the larger project, which was presented right before the budget came out, he praised the committee for their hard work. He said did not feel they had all the information to put the entire project to the voters this year, but the Selectboard put the $25,000 in this year, so that initial amount would be available.
Additional discussion questioned whether, once dredged, the pond would need to be dredged again and when, but those details were not certain according to Selleck.
McIntyre said that his intention was to make sure the project went ahead, and remembering what a nice place West Hill had been when the swimming pond was in use affirmed to Selleck, “I’m on your side.”
Several community members, including Sharon Bixby, suggested that they approve the funds as proposed, and to put trust in the Selectboard and committee who understand what they’re talking about and have a plan.
The amendment to the article was defeated. Discussion on whether to introduce a different version of an amendment was brought up but found no traction. Finally, the original article was approved as originally written.
Article 9, which asked the town to fund $312,085 to help the ambulance service with overall operations, met with some pushback with residents questioning the high costs and suggesting the town again look for a regional solution, asking more from surrounding towns and suggesting that Okemo/Vail should help pay for the expense so taxpayers weren’t absorbing all the costs.
Municipal Manager Scott Murphy said emergency service discussions had been happening recently with Chester and Springfield on the regional ambulance service discussion but that the state had not given clear direction particularly on funding from the state level. He also said that the town was working to provide the best ambulance service they can with what they’ve got but that it was difficult to attract and retain people.
Ambulance Chief Stephanie Glover spoke, saying that the Ludlow Ambulance services provide 24/7 coverage, and later said that the starting EMT salary was $14.95 an hour making it difficult to retain staff.
When asked about volunteers, Murphy said that the days of volunteers were dwindling and that the equipment and training needed for volunteers was not a successful model. Ludlow Fire Chief Peter Kolenda suggested having volunteers manning a second ambulance might be something to look into.
Other residents spoke glowingly of the ambulance service and encouraged approval of the article, with one resident saying that $312,000 wasn’t much money to save your life.
After discussion wrapped up, the article was approved followed by the quick approval of Article 10 which asked for $255,206 for the purchase of a new ambulance.
Article 11 asked for the adoption of a proposed Town Charter, which bestows the Selectboard with the authority to decide if an issue should be voted on by Australian ballot, and not on the floor. Murphy explained that this does not provide for the reverse, having an Australian ballot vote being decided on the floor.
Schmidt explained that the Selectboard had made the decision in the past to move an issue, especially if it was a sensitive subject or contentious issue, to a vote by Australian ballot but recently discovered that they didn’t have the authority to do so. This charter would give them that authority.
Resident and attorney Andrea Goldman challenged the language of the article and suggested the wording be amended to clarify that the reverse, going from Australian ballot to a floor vote, would not be allowed.
Murphy confirmed that the language had come from the town attorney and had been based on other town charters. Several residents cautioned whether changing the language might impact whether or not the state approved the charter when it went to legislature for final approval. Ludlow State Representative Logan Nicoll said that the fact that the language has been passed in other town charters, that may lend a little more weight when being reviewed for approval.
After the discussion, Goldman tried to withdraw her amendment but Nitka advised that the amendment needed to be voted on, and was subsequently defeated. The article was then approved with its original wording.
Voting for elected positions in the town will be voted on Tuesday, April 6 at the Ludlow Town Hall from 10 a.m. – 7 p.m.