Today was town meeting day in Vermont. It is the most elemental form of Democracy. You go. You learn. You listen. You discuss. You move. You amend. You vote. You eat pie with your neighbors and fellow towns folk. This was the meeting of the legislature of the town of Orange, Vermont, a town of 965 people, that’s about 300 families, in the mountains of Vermont east of Montpelier and Barre.
In some towns they’ve taken to making grand resolutions to send to Congress about the war, the President, global warming or other world wide events. We did not try an alter the course of national or world events. We did town meeting. We took care of our local issues. The rest of the year people can think globally but this is the time to act locally. I find it very odd that people think they can impeach Bush from town meeting or that it will even do any good. It takes two years. There isn’t enough control of Congress and he hasn’t done enough to warrant it, no matter how dumb he is. As to global warming, drive less or do what ever you want but town meeting isn’t the place to discuss it.
Town meeting opens with a prayer to be polite if I might put it so succinctly. Then we pledged allegiance to the flag and the country. These are good ways, unifying ways to start a meeting that can be full of contention. After that Kermit, no, not the frog, Kermit Richardson, our long time and most excellent moderator explained the procedures we would follow. Same as always but always a good reminder.
So what did we discuss?
1) Roads and road crew. We have about 30 miles of dirt roads and three miles of paved road in Orange. We have a most excellent crew of three guys who maintain our roads, plow the roads, fix the ditch, etc. Wally had just completed a course and got a certificate as a Roads Scholar. We upped a half time position to a full time position. Good move. Drainage ditches along one road are going to get lined with stone. Excellent move. More crushed ledge will be laid to improve other roads. Terrific. No new paving – that’s what I wanted to hear. I like our dirt roads, they’re easier to maintain and repair and a heck of a lot less expensive than paved roads. This is the back woods of Vermont so drive a little slower.
2) We elected town officials. No surprises really there except I would suggest that if you don’t want to get elected you had better attend town meeting or you may be voted in-absentia… No kidding.
3) We spent a considerable amount of time talking about the various good causes that we as a town support like the United Way, the Food Bank and many others. How much to send them, what they do for our folks, our town, our county were all discussed. It helps when they send a report detailing what they do with the money along with their funding request for the next year. That was part of the question that came up as a few had not done so.
4) We heard from our local elected representatives of the Vermont state legislature Susan Hatch Davis and Phil Winters. They told us about various programs and laws that were under consideration. Big questions on getting broadband. Mr. Winters said that “87% of Vermonters now have access to broadband. The other 13% live in Orange.” There seemed to be general support to the dying with dignity bill. Everyone wants to know how the proposals on taxes are going to affect their income taxes and property taxes – not a lot of clues there, yet. Sounds like we might see a 25¢ tax per $100 valuation on homesteads plus a 2% tax on adjusted gross income per House Bill 109 which appears to be supported by a coalition of Republicans, Democrats and Progressive party members in the legislature. Not sure if I’m for or aginst it yet. Not enough details. One big question I have is how will this affect people who own more than the two acre homesteads. That two acre number is a silly number. It’s a city number. Maybe suburbs. The average homestead in Orange is 100 acres. We have a lot of farms and forestry going on. Both of those things take a lot of land. These are real farms where they grow crops and raise animals on the land, not factories that do it all in a box. Real farming and sustainable forestry takes real estate and lots of it. That land is kept open for everyone to see and enjoy. It sequesters carbon and helps reduce pollution. The current system is very hard on those of us with more than the minimal two acres. The current property tax system punishes people for having more than a postage stamp of land. That’s dumb. We don’t need more condos. We don’t need to pave over all the fields. If H.109 is just going to benefit people with city plots, two acre homesteads, then I’m not incline to it. We need tax relief in the rural areas too. Speaking of tax relief…
5) We spent a lot of time discussing the school budget. This always takes a lot of time and with good reason. The school budget takes up the vast majority of our tax money. 75%? They’re spending over $10,000 per student. That’s crazy. it shouldn’t cost that much. Something’s got to give because the spending keeps going up every year. The number of children in the school has fallen over the last four (2005-2008 budget years) years from 175 to 157 but the budget has grown from $1,950,987 to $2,132,389. That’s a 9% growth in spending with a 11% drop in students. Every year we fight this tooth and nail but the budget keeps going up. The school board says that the majority of the costs are out of their control, forced on them by the federal and state governments. Lots of discussion. If any one thing polarizes the town this is it. The Act 68 system of money redistribution makes the whole thing so complex that the school board couldn’t even explain it using “New Math”. That’s a bad sign. The whole thing of the state taking more control and the feds taking more control is hurting schools and towns. At one point there was a vote to try and level fund based on last year that failed (28 yea, 56 nay). In the end the budget passed with the new increase but with much resistance. A lot of people are not happy.
6) Then the school board tried to sell us on the need for government funded and controlled preschool. They actually had the audacity to tell us that we don’t do a good enough job raising our own children an that they have to step in to do it for us. This raised hackles. Even mild mannered Holly stood up and gave them a piece of her mind. The preschool proposal got more resistance than the small increase in the school budget. A couple of people supported the government preschool, they wanted their kids in it and us paying for their daycare expenses. But other people, the vast majority (58 nay, 28 yea) were against it. Reasons included fear of the Nanny State gradually taking control of our children and our lives, costs inevitably going up, bloated government, government competition with private preschools, adding of additional staff and more reasons. Fortunately this proposal was junk by more than a 2/3rds majority. Now we must watch out in the legislature as there was discussion that some state legislators are trying to implement mandatory forced preschool for children starting at age three. Before you know it they’ll start taking our children at birth because the Nanny State Knows Best! Then there will be forced prenatal care. Are you pregnant? Well then don’t you dare eat that Trans-Fat french fry! Yes, I got a bit heated under the collar on this topic. We don’t need government micromanaging our lives in one more way. Bad enough as it is.
was the last warrant item. Town meeting ended 5 minutes earlier than last year. We all packed up chairs, cleaned up and out we went into the cold crisp night.
Did I mention it was cold today? Well when I got up this morning I looked at the windows and door hinges and thought, “hmm… It’s a cold one all right.” The frost had crept right in through the walls. Then I checked my outdoor thermometer and it read 14°F above zero. Well, now that’s not so bad I thought. So I headed out to do chores in my shorts and a light jacket as usual on a nice day like that. DAMN!!! I couldn’t breath. I came back in the house right fast. I double checked: Yes, the thermometer read +14°F. What’s wrong? I like that temperature. Well, maybe I’m not feeling up to par so I put on my heavy insulated work suit and headed back out.
It’s cold! Did I mention that? Cold enough that the ice was solid on the insides of all the windows, even the quadruple pane windows. Cold enough that the hinges and door handles were covered with ice, on the inside of the house. Cold enough that your boots squeak with every step – it sounds like you’re walking on crushed glass. Cold enough that your try not to breath but rather to make it through the whole morning’s chores on one warm indoor lung full of air. Cold enough that you always face south, for what little good that does. Cold enough that you hunch your neck down and try and pull in like a box turtle. Cold enough that you don’t take off your gloves because if you touch anything, especially metal, you stick. Cold enough that the pigs and the chickens looked at me out of their piles of hay and coop as if to say, “No way are we dumb enough to come out and join you in the snow and the wind! Serve us dinner in bed!” So I did. Silly me.
Oh, and did I mention the wind. It was a good strong 40 mph with higher gusts. The air was filled with white knives all moving sideways. Snow devils marching across the landscape filling in all the dips and the hollows. Your foot steps vanish behind you. Forget it, Gretel – You’ll leave no crumb trail today. Much of the driveway was filled in again although I had plowed yesterday. Cool combs of snow had formed. The dogs never seem to mind the wind and still sit up high on their perches where they can look out across the white, white world under a crystal blue sky. Yes, I was holding the camera level in that photo. That’s just how tilted our world is.
So why was my thermometer so wrong? It read +14°F. After chores I finally went around to the northeast side of the farm house and checked. The wind had created a huge drift half way up the wall and covered my thermometer probe in over a foot of snow. The probe was against the wall of the house but about an inch out. The foot of snow on top of the probe protected it from the extreme cold. Wow! So now we know how effective a mere one foot of snow is as insulation. After I uncovered the probe the thermometer reading plunged to -15°F, a drop of 29°F. That snow’s pretty good insulation! During the night it was probably a lot colder because I didn’t get around to checking the probe until about 10 am. Note that none of these temperatures take into account wind chill. That would push the effective temperature even lower. -50°F according to the Weather.gov wind chill chart. No wonder I felt so cold when I first went out in my usual work attire! Damn cold. Colder than Hell. Realize that in the north, Hell’s a cold place… after all, who would be afraid of the tropics when you’re dealing with this!
So it was a bit cold today, and windy too. I think this may have been why attendance at town meeting was so low. There were actually empty chairs in the town hall. Based on the votes there were 86 voters plus the moderator, sheriff (he’s from Orange), legislators and kids. Maybe a hundred people. Many years the hall is packed, standing room only. Probably a lot of cars that wouldn’t start. We just replaced our car battery last month so that probably helped.
That is a cake that Hope baked and insisted we take to town meeting. I think she may have been remembering that last year people had brought baked things to meeting. She baked it all herself, making the recipe up all herself. I was prepared to swallow down a disaster without cringing, with a smile on my lips yet it was delicious! A delightful surprise! A light and airy spice cake. She has excellent potential as a fancy chef!
Outdoors: -6°F/-15°F Sunny, Very Windy
Farm House: 51°F/41°F six logs
Tiny Cottage: 49°F/38°F no work