BY MERYL BRACONNIER & NICKIE MORRIS | COMMUNITY NEWS SERVICE | MARCH 12, 2020
Hinesburg’s Town Meeting Day election stretched to the end of last week when local elections officials conducted a recount in a Select Board race where challenger Jeff Tobrocke narrowly defeated incumbent Tom Ayer, 888 to 883, in the initial count on election day.
On Friday morning, March 6, the ballots were put through the tabulating machine a second time at Town Hall to double check the tally.
On the second count, Tobrocke was declared the winner of the two-year Select Board seat, according to Town Clerk Melissa Ross. The recount changed the tally by one vote increasing the margin to six votes, but the result remained the same: Tobrocke 888, Ayer 882.
“It’s confirmed,” Ross said.
The recount capped off a busy election week that began Monday evening, March 2, with town meeting where local residents and elected officials debated a variety of topics before voters cast ballots to decide local elections on Tuesday.
According to Ross, 194 people attended the meeting at Champlain Valley Union High School. They voted on 13 articles including a few unexpected amendments.
While the proposed budget of $1,851,236 for fiscal year 2021 passed easily, it did not come without questions about the effectiveness of the town meeting process.
“I think the town needs to have a discussion about whether voting on the town budget on the floor is the most democratic process. A few hundred people making all these decisions in a town of 4,500, it just seems really unfair to me,” resident Bill Baker said.
While many residents had more thoughts on this matter, the debate was shelved in order to continue discussing each article.
Article 5 drew passionate questions for Police Chief Anthony Cambridge, as voters approved the proposed Police Department budget of $606,783 despite unclear answers about Hinesburg’s drug problem.
“What we have to do with addressing the drug problem is get more officers on the road, making traffic stops and getting to the drug houses. Other than getting more officers out there, there’s nothing I can really do to stop the drug problem,” Cambridge said.
Select Board Chair Phil Pouech disagreed. “I don’t think more police are necessarily what will solve the problem or what the people of the town want,” he said.
Hinesburg resident Elizabeth George then asked what efforts were police making with restorative justice in the community, as there is nothing in the Hinesburg police budget toward such efforts.
“Our restorative justice program is through Williston. We’ve started to use that more and I certainly don’t want to criminalize a drug problem. We want to help out in whatever way the community wants us to,” Cambridge responded.
The proposed Fire Department budget raised some concern, as a new paid daytime EMS position was added to the mostly volunteer force.
“The Fire Department used to be run by local Hinesburg farmers. Now this force is commuters who work 30, 50 miles away, and that’s the primary reason we need this one person during the day on staff,” Fire Chief Greg Matthews said.
Article 8 was preceded with a presentation about Hinesburg’s Community Resource Center, a nonprofit organization that operates the food shelf, provides medical equipment, and runs a variety of programs for children and families.
After the presentation, appreciative Hinesburg citizen Mary Beth Goldman proposed increasing the $21,000 proposed for the organization by 10% to $23,100. The amendment was approved by a two-thirds majority and the article then passed to support the resource center.
Next on the agenda was an article with requests totaling $14,350 from seven nonprofit community and social service organizations: UVM Home Care & Hospice, $6,500; Age Well, $4,000; Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity, $1,000; Committee on Temporary Shelter, $1,000; Vermont Family Network $1,000; Hinesburg Senior Meal Site, $650; Vermont Center for Independent Living, $200. An amendment was also proposed to add a request for $2,350 from the nonprofit Steps to End Domestic Violence. The item was approved despite the group missing the deadline to submit its request to receive taxpayer funding.
Voters then unanimously passed the proposed $94,870 in expenditures to cover one year of contracted ambulance transport service from neighboring towns, as Hinesburg continues to explore its options for ambulance service. The town’s longtime relationship with St. Michael’s Rescue is set to end June 30 and a decision was needed on who will handle ambulance calls for Hinesburg after that.
The other article on this topic also passed with voters agreeing to put on the November general election ballot a question on whether Hinesburg should form its own ambulance service.
The last item of business was setting Monday, Nov. 16, as the date for property tax payments because the customary date of the 15th falls on a Sunday.
On Tuesday, March 3, voters went to the polls to decide a number of races for local offices. The close- finish Select Board race that was recounted Friday was just one of three seats voters decided this week.
Another incumbent on the ballot, Merrily Lovell, handily won re-election to another three-year term against challenger Michael Bissonette, 1,034 to 783. Michael Loner was unopposed for the remaining two years in a three-year term; he received 1,463 votes.
Other results were:
- Katherine Kjelleren won re-election to a three-year term for library trustee defeating Paul Lamberson, 1,489 to 1,239.
- Ross was unopposed for re-election to three-year terms as town clerk and treasurer as was incumbent Frank Twarog for another year as moderator.
- Glenn Place and Gill Coates had no competition for re-election to three-year terms as cemetery trustee and Peck Estate trustee, respectively.
Community News Service is a collaboration with the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program.