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  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris

    Martha Goodnow looks through handouts before the start of the Mont Vernon Town Hall Meeting, Tuesday evening.
  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris

    Former Town Clerk of Mont Vernon, Marilyn Savage makes her case against the proposed wage increase for the current Town Clerk as Mike Fimbel waits behind her for his turn to speak during Mont Vernon's Town Hall meeting, Tuesday evening.
  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris

    Eileen Naber stands at the microphone to ask a question during Tuesday evening's Mont Vernon Town Hall meeting at the Mont Vernon Village School.
  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris

    Charlie Dodd and his wife Anne hold their voters card high in support of Article three on the Mont Vernon ballot, Tuesday evening at the Mont Vernon Village School.
  • Staff Photo by Grant Morris

    Sue Casey counts ballots in the gym at the Mont Vernon Village School, Tuesday evening.
Thursday, March 10, 2011

Mont Vernon voters turn down contributions to fire engine, conservation fund, OK building renovations

MONT VERNON – Fresh off a resounding defeat of his funding request for a new fire engine, Fire Chief Jay Wilson stepped to the microphone Tuesday night at the Mont Vernon Town Meeting.

“I’d like to make a motion to restrict reconsideration,” Wilson said with a broad smile, inducing a chorus of laughter from the crowd. “I figured I wouldn’t make Eileen get out of her chair.”

For years, motions to restrict reconsideration, which prevent voters from asking to retake a vote, have been left to resident Eileen Naber, who often reminds town officials of the maneuver.

But even after voters strongly denied his request for $15,000 to go toward a new engine, Wilson opted to poke fun at his longtime friend and neighbor.

“We hold no hard feelings toward the community at all,” he said afterward. “It’s our duty to ask for what we feel the community needs. … We support whatever they do.”

This sort of warmth and camaraderie top the list of reasons why Mont Vernon has maintained its traditional Town Meeting despite the introduction of the Official Ballot format.

Many towns across the state have shifted to Official Ballot, also known as SB2, which allows residents to vote throughout the day rather than attend a night meeting, and last year, the Mont Vernon School District followed suit. But as a town, Mont Vernon has resisted the change, not giving the matter serious consideration, according to Selectman John Quinlan.

“(Town Meeting) is perfect for a town like Mont Vernon,” Quinlan said before the meeting started. “Everybody knows everybody. It gives us a chance to get together, decide on town business face to face.”

Residents milled around happily for nearly an hour before the meeting began in the gymnasium of the Mont Vernon Middle School.

Children played happily on the floor, while neighbors – some wearing business attire, others in more casual dress – greeted each other and exchanged pleasantries, paying little mind to the hefty town business awaiting them.

Volunteers for a local community agency sold raffle tickets to benefit local families who lost their homes recently to fires.

“This is a great place to get (donations),” said Rich Masters, executive director of Neighbor 2 Neighbor, the Mont Vernon nonprofit group. “Everybody comes here, and people are already thinking about their community.”

Once moderator Barbara Millar clapped her hands to the podium, calling the meeting to order, voters quickly took their seats and went on to address 14 warrant articles over the next three hours.

With debate growing heated at times, voters denied requests to contribute $15,000 to the town’s Fire Truck Capital Reserve Fund, as well as $5,000 to the conservation fund.

They approved $40,000 for renovations to the town’s McCollom Building, which houses the clerk’s office and Police Department, and they set the operating budget at $1.9 million – $40,000 higher than the current year’s figure.

The 2011-12 budget total includes about $18,500 funding for a new police cruiser, which some voters tried to eliminate from the spending plan. But Selectman Jack Esposito argued that the need for the cruiser has been demonstrated over recent weeks as the department has lost each of its three vehicles due to accidents and other issues.

“We don’t relish spending money in a tough economic time like this, but frankly the vehicle’s required,” Esposito said. “I think we’ve seen that over the last few weeks.

In perhaps the most contentious issue of the night, voters declined to add $9,900 in salary increases to the Town Clerk’s budget.

“I don’t see a need for this. … There’s a lot of us out there having a hard time paying taxes,” Marilyn Savage, a former town clerk, told the board.

The vote, which passed by a thin margin, was certainly disappointing, current clerk Jeanette Vinton said. But Vinton quickly collected herself as the meeting moved on, and she returned to work, taking down notes and monitoring the microphone.

“It’s disappointing, but you can’t take it personally,” she said after the meeting. “You have to go back to work tomorrow and serve the community. … That’s what we do in this town.”

Jake Berry can be reached at 594-6402 or