Thursday, February 26, 2009

Dateline Woodstock:

Toward the end of February each year, Vermonters begin to think that in just three or four months, the snow will melt and the trees will bud out. It will be Spring! Depending on where you live, you might think of 3-4 months as a long, long time to wait. But here in Vermont, there is much to be accomplished in such a very short time. For example, next week Vermonters are almost entirely absorbed in Town Government, with the official Town Meeting Day occurring on the first Tuesday of March. Woodchucks (citizens of Woodstock as they are affectionately known) will be meeting on Town Hall next Saturday to hear reports from each department of the Town Government and to consider the proposed budget for the 2009-2010 tax year. In your town you may not know who decided to buy that new fire engine, or the new road grader. But here in Woodstock, when a new piece of equipment shows up, we all know why it was purchased, what it costs, and what it will be used for. That's because, the previous year at Town Meeting, we, the townspeople, haggled over the expenditure, often for several hours. And haggling isn't reserved for large expenditures either. We are equal-opportunity hagglers and, for example, last year spent nearly an hour discussing how funds from the Road Maintenance Sinking Fund could be tapped to purchase a new set of box wrenches for Highway Department. (By the way, we don't actually have any highways in Woodstock, but we call it that just to allow for future expansion. Besides, the Dirt Road Department just doesn't have the same ring of importance.) Woodchucks are keenly aware that every appropriation they approve will have a measurable impact on their tax bill. Fortunately, Bill Jarvis, who made the pitch for the new box wrenches, had prepared and effective PowerPoint presentation and the matter passed handily with a floor vote of nearly 83%. Here in Woodstock, the larger issues, such as approving the multi-million dollar high school budget, is reserved for paper balloting the following Tuesday, the actual Town Meeting Day. They call this an Australian Ballot. Now we have quite a few Australian friends, but we have never figured out what is Australian about making a black mark inside a box on a paper ballot and shoving the whole thing into a machine resembling a backwards Xerox machine. Smaller items, such as an upgrade for the Town's copy of PowerPoint, are usually passed on a show of hands. As you watch the US Congress in action, you may think to yourself "It's a good thing they don't use the Vermont method to hammer things out." But then, we would argue that here in Woodstock, we're nearly as productive.

No comments: