ANWSD to recount vote of narrowly approved school budget

VERGENNES — The 672-665 Town Meeting Day vote backing the $22,139,341 Addison Northwest School District spending plan for the coming year is headed for a recount.
Ballots are expected to be counted late this week.
As of Monday one registered voter from each of the five ANWSD communities — Addison, Ferrisburgh, Panton, Vergennes and Waltham — had emailed ANWSD clerk Tara Brooks, as required by law, requesting the recount.
Brooks will oversee the district office recount, which will be conducted by members of each community’s Board of Civil Authority (BCA). BCAs consist of selectboard or council members, justices of the peace, and town or city clerks.
Brooks said the Vermont Secretary of State’s office had confirmed that emails alone — not written or in-person notification — were enough to meet the legal standard to trigger a recount, assuming at least one email came from a registered voter in each town.
Many ballots will be counted at the ANWSD offices in Vergennes at 8 a.m. on Friday, but because of differing interpretations of election law and the ANWSD Articles of Unification, city officials from Vergennes (and maybe other towns) will count their own municipality’s ballots. 
Brooks acknowledged the questions about the process raised by Vergennes City Clerk Joan Devine, but said the important issue was that the will of residents be satisfied and the ballots will be counted again. 
“I just want to get the recount done in a timely fashion to honor the request of the petitioners. It is my goal to ensure this happens regardless of location. The ANWSD board will need to look at their articles of agreement and figure out how to handle this in the future,” Brooks wrote in a Wednesday morning email to the Independent.
Devine said in her opinion the articles of unification provide for commingled reporting of results, but not for commingled counting of ballots outside of each municipality.
Devine said other articles of unification around Vermont use boilerplate language that specifically calls for commingling of ballots before counting, but the ANWSD articles lack that provision.
“In ours it’s not in there. The very last sentence was taken out,” said Devine said.
Therefore, she has concluded Vergennes voters did not support commingled ballots when they backed unification. She cited a different Vermont election law that requires such a vote. 
“All they’ve authorized is that the budget will be authorized by Australian ballot. And because they aren’t commingled I follow a different statute on the process,” Devine said, adding, “The law clearly says they have to vote to commingle, and our voters did not vote to commingle.”
Devine has scheduled the Vergennes recount for 3 p.m. on Thursday at the city’s Green Street fire station.
Addison Town Clerk Marilla Webb said members of her town’s BCA would bring ballots to the ANWSD office in Vergennes on Friday morning, and Brooks reported Waltham Town Clerk Mary Ann Castimore planned to bring Waltham’s ballots there herself. 
Panton’s town office was not open on Wednesday. Panton Clerk Pam Correia did not immediately respond to a message left on her home phone. Ferrisburgh Town Clerk Gloria Warden on Wednesday morning said she was aware of Devine’s concerns and was adopting a wait-and-see approach, while pledging ballots would be counted in a timely manner. Later on Wednesday she concluded the town should count its own ballots, and scheduled a count for 2 p.m. on Thursday. 
Warden saw a silver lining to the differing points of view on how to handle the recount. As Brooks also mentioned, Warden said the ANSWD board can examine the election procedure and propose a solution. 
“The good point is it’s going to clean it up, and people will know,” Warden said. 
Regardless of a recount result, the bar is set higher if residents want to petition for a revote of the school budget. 
The law requires a petition signed by 5 percent of the total electorate of the five communities to trigger a revote. As of earlier this week the total ANWSD checklist stood at 6,159. Municipal officials noted voter numbers can fluctuate almost daily as people register or move on. 
If that ANWSD voter count holds, petitioners would need at least 308 valid signatures to present to Brooks to trigger a special election on the budget vote. The deadline for such a petition would be 30 days after the election, or April 4. 
After three years of essentially level district spending, that $22,139,341 budget approved on March 5 will increase school spending by about $1.03 million, or 4.89 percent. 
Largely because of declining enrollment the tax impact could be an extra 9.6 cents on school tax rates in ANWSD towns, although final numbers won’t be known until the Legislature is through tinkering. Also, roughly two-thirds of Vermont homeowners pay based on their incomes and will receive rebates, thus not feeling the full impact of any increase.
No Mount Abe recount
Voters in the Mount Abraham Unified School District — which comprises the towns of Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton, New Haven and Starksboro — also very narrowly passed their school budget on Town Meeting Day. As of Wednesday morning, school administrators had not received enough requests to trigger a recount of the 1,140–1,127 passage of the $31 million spending plan.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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