By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
ALBURGH -- The deadly COVID-19 virus has forced both the town of Alburgh and the School District to pull the plug on their respective special votes planned for Tuesday.
Also postponed are informational meetings scheduled for Monday night at the Alburgh Community Education Center for the new proposed school budget and a special town expenditure.
Selectboard Vice Chair Cheryl Moomey said the town of Alburgh is complying with Gov. Phil Scott’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe” Executive Order during the COVID-19 pandemic. She said the Selectboard agreed to cancel all meetings until after May 1. Scott announced on Friday he is extending the stay at home order until May 15.
Alburgh School Board Chairman Michael Savage said the town informed the school district that it could not have its warned re-vote on the budget this week. Savage said Sunday the School Board is now looking to have a possible vote in June on the budget, which goes into effect July 1.
The School Board had warned a proposed budget of $6,680,217 for daylong voting on Tuesday at the Municipal Offices on North Main Street.
The new budget comes after the initial proposal of $6,784,186 went down, 334-268, during the March 3 vote. Savage said the board had very few places to cut, but managed to slice just over $100,000, including a needed guidance counselor.
The Selectboard had earlier called for its own special vote on Tuesday to restore $75,000 to the annual town budget. The Capital Equipment Fund approved last year for the Alburgh Fire Department was overlooked when Town Clerk and Treasurer Donna Bohannon compiled the final budget printout, officials said.
Alburgh voters a year ago approved the ongoing $75,000 allocation. The deletion was discovered about three days before Town Meeting Day, Selectboard member Ken Millman has said.
Vermont Secretary of State Jim Condos announced a March 31 directive in conjunction with Gov. Scott that allows for the postponement of various municipal elections across the state.
“The current public health crisis has been a serious test for all of us, and it’s also testing our democracy,” Condos said in a news release.
To protect the rights of local voters, language in the directive mandates any “cancelled election shall be held as soon as possible when it may be safely done so as deemed by the municipality, and the rights of any petitioners shall be preserved until such time as the election is held.”
Condos said allowing municipalities “to postpone upcoming mandated local elections to a later date is in the best interest of the public’s health, and the health of poll workers and municipal officials, during this critical stage of effort to slow community spread of the coronavirus.”
Specifically, the directive states that “any municipality that has an upcoming annual meeting or other election that is mandated to be held on or by a certain date, either by charter, article of agreement, other governing document, or by the provisions of 17 V.S.A. §2643 or §2661, may cancel that election and hold it on a different date in the year 2020 as determined by the municipality.”
Elections Director Will Senning, who provided written guidance to Vermont’s Town and City Clerks, said the postponement of upcoming local elections “will give us all time to hopefully get past the height of this virus and to also assess the need for, to devise, and to implement any special procedures to conduct these votes more safely.”
Condos said the decision to allow for the postponement of municipal elections during an active crisis was not taken lightly.
“However, holding fair, free and accessible elections while protecting the public’s health during these times of social distancing, may mean that as Vermonters we must be prepared for an elections process that may be different than what we’re used to.”
Condos said the decision to postpone an upcoming municipal election is a local decision and must be made by the legislative body of the municipality, which may now meet and do so remotely under temporary revisions made to Vermont’s Open Meeting Law.