Starksboro hosts the epitome of Town Meeting

STARKSBORO — Between a couple of basketball hoops in a sunny gymnasium decorated with children’s fitness posters, 111 people took time out of their busy Saturday morning to accomplish some Vermont-style capital-D Democracy at the Starksboro town meeting.
In spite of occasional debate, amendments and even amendments to the amendments, there was something almost luxurious about the three hours the community took to get the town’s business done that day.
Perhaps the hot coffee helped, and the magnificent spread of baked materials laid out by the Four Winds Nature Institute. And knowing that youngsters were well-tended in an adjoining room.
Scattered among the townspeople who endured the butt-numbing wooden benches and metal chairs, a quartet of official old-timers was on hand, with more than 160 years of town meeting experience among them; a handful of newcomers showed up, too, and earned by town tradition a half-pint of maple syrup; young families sat next to town employees and volunteers.
After great spirited discussion, capping weeks of back and forth on Front Porch Forum, a majority of those voters approved an additional $4,633 for the Starksboro Gazette budget, which increased general fund spending to $1,018,844.
They approved $47,373 for the Fire Equipment Reserve Fund and $93,526 for the Road Equipment Reserve Fund and $40,000 for the Paving Reserve Fund.
They signed off on $30,000 for the Starksboro Public Library, which surely deserves every penny, and were encouraged to stop by the library on their way home from the meeting — just to say hello to the on-duty librarian.
They agreed it would be OK to spend up to $210,000 for a replacement tandem dump truck, and they approved a whole slew of in-town funding requests totaling $45,925 and out-of-town funding requests totaling $29,588.
When they were asked to support the Starksboro Village Meeting House with a new $3,000 line item, however, everything came to a halt.
Was this enough? many asked. Can we spare a little more? How about $25,000? someone proposed.
“We are talking about a building that’s right in the center of town,” said Town Treasurer Celine Coon. “Now, the town doesn’t have any responsibility; however, there is not a week that goes by in the town office that someone doesn’t walk in and say, ‘How come you’re not taking care of that building?’”
Selectboard member Keegan Tierney sits on both the town selectboard and on the Village Meeting House committee. He stood to speak in the latter capacity.
“We have a bank account with $40,000 that’s been earned over the last 20 or 30 years by having Sugar on Snow and ham dinners, bringing in anywhere from $1,500 to $3,000 a year,” he said. “We’ve reached a point where we’re ready to spend some of that money.”
But exterior painting will cost $25,000 — not including the windows or the bell tower; a new roof on the north side will cost a minimum of $20,000 — they’re getting quotes now.
“We thought it was appropriate to come to the town to ask for a little support,” Tierney continued, “so that we’d have something to come back to in the event that we drained our bank account with these projects.”
The committee was hoping for an annual contribution, he said.
Regardless of whatever numbers got quibbled over in the ensuing discussion, the community’s love for their struggling building was evident throughout.
In the end they increased their contribution from $3,000 to $10,000.
“I’m excited,” Tierney said of the vote. “It was good to see the community rallying around this issue. What transpired was great — it was democracy in action. That’s why I love small towns.”
In one last exercise in democracy, Starksboro voters elected their town officials on Town Meeting Day.
Incumbent Tony Porter won another two-year term on the selectboard and Nancy Boss won an open seat for a three-year term on the board. Both ran unopposed.
Also on Town Meeting Day, Starksboro voters, along with MAUSD voters from four other towns, approved a $30,950,235 budget for the coming school year, 1,140 to 1,127, with all ballots commingled. An additional article on the school ballot, requesting the creation of a Capital Reserve Fund, easily passed, 1,514 to 756.
In their pursuit of democratic ideals, Starksboro’s town meeting attendees have apparently become more civilized over the years.
“Back in the late ’70s and early ’80s we would sometimes have some shouting matches,” said Cheryl Estey, who’s been town clerk since 1989 and was assistant town clerk before that. “It was almost knock-out, drag-down fist-fighting,” she added.
There was none of that on Saturday, however.
“Yeah,” she said. “We haven’t behaved like that in a long time.”

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