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Tara Liloia in front of Isle La Motte town offices. Photos: Sarah Harris
Tara Liloia in front of Isle La Motte town offices. Photos: Sarah Harris

Town meeting day: VT voters decide issues big and small

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Vermont's Champlain Islands are smack in the middle of Lake Champlain's northern end. Isle La Motte is the westernmost of those islands. It's isolated and rural. Living there, you might travel to New York State to see a doctor, or go to the grocery store.

But, Isle La Motte joins other towns across Vermont in town meeting day, when citizens come together to have their say on issues big and small. Sarah Harris spent town meeting day on the island and has our story.

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The Isle La Motte town office is hopping at 10 in the morning. Voters pull up to the two-story white clapboard building and visit a little before heading inside to the polling booths to cast their votes.

Katrina Sharp is turning in her ballot.

“I think as citizens we should all have the right to vote and we should exercise that. And we brought my children here. I want to show them the importance of having to be able to do that and having the right to do that," Sharp explained. 

Vermonters take up all sorts of public business on town meeting day. They’ll weigh in on national issues like prayer at municipal functions or constitutional amendments. And they’ll vote on nuts-and-bolts civic business, like the local selectboard, or funding for the town garage.

But town meeting day isn’t as quaint as you might think, says Dustin Bruley, a 28-year-old justice of the peace who’s helping officiate.

"We don’t have the old Norman Rockwell you go and you vote all day and it’s a potluck election type thing. Ours we have the meeting on Saturday and you go and you vote on some things and we have the election on by paper ballot here on Tuesday on town meeting day," Bruley said. 

Town meeting day still manages to retain its small-town feel. Take Tara Liloia. She’s the current school board chair and is running unopposed for the position again. But she had some trouble turning in her paperwork. 

"It gets really windy in Isle La Motte—wind whips across the lake—I went to go turn in my ballot it was ripped out of my hands, it was gone, blew out of my hands, Because it’s such a small town it was very easy to get the word out that I am a write-in candidate for school board," Liloia explained as a voter approached.   

The issue that’s galvanized people this year is a local one: the school bus. Isle La Motte school has 22 students from kindergarten to sixth grade.  A lot of kids either walk to school or get rides from their parents. So the school board decided to get rid of the bus service last year in order to cut costs. But Liloia says it’s been an unexpected hardship for the community.

"We found a few parents were saying it was too hard with the logistics of getting to work on time, also one of the problems is cost and safety was a concern."

So the schoolboard decided to put the bus back on the ballot.

Steve Steta says he’s  voting "yes."  

"I think every child needs to be afforded the proper education and that’s part and parcel of it," Steta said. 

Voting continued until 7 pm, when it was time to count the paper ballots.

Tara Liloia sends me an email the day after town meeting. She’s been reelected as schoolboard chair. The school budget passed. They’ll be getting a new roof. But the bus was defeated. 91 people voted no, 80 voted yes.

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