Stefan Hard / Staff Photo
Williamstown voters mingle outside the official polling station Tuesday at Williamstown Middle/High School on Town Meeting Day.
WILLIAMSTOWN – The counting continued late into the night in Williamstown where one of the results – voters’ narrow decision to advance a proposed public safety building was unofficial with a capital “U.”
After counting the ballots three times, Town Clerk Barbara Graham said poll workers kept coming up with the same inexplicable result: 10 more ballots were cast than could be accounted for by poll workers.
“We’ve got more ballots than what we should have,” she said, noting the unofficial count showed voters approved the $2.5 million project, 310-284.
Graham authorized a fourth count late Tuesday night, however, given the discrepancy, she said she would not certify the results without first conferring with the Secretary of State’s Office this morning. She said it was possible the question, which was separately warned and had its own ballot, would have to be re-voted.
“At this point we just don’t know,” she said.
Graham was able to confirm approval of the School Board’s $8.4 million budget request, which passed, 352-218, and all but one other school spending initiative. Though voters agreed to place $60,000 of a school surplus in a technology reserve fund they balked at appropriating $40,000 of the audited fund balance to the ONWARD Program. That request was rejected, 274-298. Voters did agree to place $10,000 in a school roof fund, $10,000 in a capital improvement fund, and $5,000 in a bus fund, she said.
The results of three hotly contested races for seats on the Select Board weren’t available until shortly after 11 p.m. as poll workers busily counted and recounted ballots in the cafeteria at Williamstown Middle/High School.
Former board member Chris Peloquin was hoping to oust Selectman Matt Rouleau, but lost, 212-355. Board critic Mike Sprano was angling to unseat Selectman Scott Vaillancourt, but he came up short, 196-351. And Adam Stone, who aligned himself with Peloquin and Sprano, was running against former board member Ed McGlynn in a race to replace Selectman Francis Covey. McGlynn was the victor, 335-227.
If there was any doubt Williamstown voters were being tugged in two directions it was erased by two oversized signs many of them passed on the way to town meeting.
One employed a riff on the once-popular motto of the anti-civil union crowd, urging voters to “Take Back Williamstown” by casting their ballots for Peloquin, Sprano and Stone.
The other, supporting the candidacies of Rouleau, Vaillancourt and McGlynn, played off that theme asking: “How far back do you want to go? Let’s move Williamstown forward.
Despite the dueling signs that screamed the balance of power on the five-member Select Board was at stake, Williamstown’s traditional town meeting was surprisingly tame.
But for a lunch-driven recess, the open meeting would have been over by noon. That includes the time it took for those in attendance to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, Graham to read the warnings for town and school district meetings in their entirety, a generous15-minute break that allowed the School Board to swap spots with the Select Board, and the closing remarks of Sen. Mark MacDonald and Rep. Phil Winters.
Voters approved municipal budget requests totaling nearly $2 million without a single word of explanation or discussion, and if it hadn’t been for questions about the Select Board’s multi-faceted plan for a year-end surplus the meeting might have ended even sooner.
Following a brief explanation, voters approved the board’s request to place $40,000 of a general fund surplus in a town hall renovation fund and to earmark $131,093 to stabilize the municipal tax rates in future years.
Described by one resident as a rainy day fund, Board Chairman Larry Hebert said it was more of a hedge against the future loss of state funding.
“This would help cushion that,” he said.
After breaking for lunch, voters also agreed to place $77,106 of a highway fund surplus in a road rehabilitation reserve fund.
There was a pointed question about how the names of property owners who don’t pay their taxes or their water and sewer bills should be listed in the Town Report, and some question about a decision to waive an 8 percent penalty on three delinquent taxpayers last year, but that was as close to critical as it got on a day when Select Board hopefuls decided to keep their powder dry and let their signs do the talking.
The result was unusually uneventful meeting during which voters said “yes” to everything that was asked of them – including a five-year tax exemption for a portion of the property owned by the Summit Lodge – and never requested a paper ballot.
The School Board was up first, but didn’t spend much time in the spotlight – fielding only a few questions during a town meeting that got off to a glitch-free start at 10 a.m. and broke for its first recess barely a half an hour later.
With the School Board’s $8.4 million budget request and several other school money matters scheduled to be decided by Australian ballot the school district meeting didn’t last very long.
There was a question about the affect sequestration might have on school finances – not much – and a brief explanation of the board’s plans for surplus funds that were the subject to of two other ballot initiatives. However there was only one vote before Town Moderator Winston Chambers declared a 15-minute recess at 10:30 a.m.
The decisive, but half-hearted voice vote came in support of a non-binding referendum encouraging the state Legislature to preserve and encourage local government and control instead of pursuing a plan to consolidate school districts and supervisory unions.
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