By Megan Schneider, Community News Service
More than a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, many voters nonetheless showed up in person on Tuesday, Nov. 2 to vote on the Harwood Unified Union School District’s $59.5 million construction bond this week.
Traffic was steady at the polls at Waterbury’s municipal offices and outside the Duxbury town garage and offices all day.
Waterbury was set up inside the Steele Community Room with voters entering three at a time to maintain social distancing and masks required. With just the single question on the ballot, voters checked one box and then went on their way. By Tuesday night, results were announced that the measure was defeated by a vote of 2,599 to 975.
As they voted on Tuesday afternoon, some stopped to talk about their choice and what motivated them to come out on Election Day.
Some bond supporters said they were motivated to vote yes by the need to update Harwood Union High School which was built in the mid-1960s. The bond proposal included $53.5 million for updating the high school and $6 million to expand Crossett Brook Middle School to combine all of the grade 7 and 8 students in the district there.
“We have got to modernize everything and the high school hasn’t been modernized in 40 years or so,” said Joan Spiegel, who voted for the bond.
John Sherman agreed. “It will never be less expensive. It will only cost more in the future,” he said.
Others looked to specifics of the project the bond would fund. “I read what was entailed in the bond vote and I heard they were going to make some improvements to the track and field facility,” said Harwood graduate Kyle Duffy. “I think that is an important improvement and could be very useful to the community.”
Nick and Carrie Bennette showed up to vote with their 8-year-old and said they both supported the bond to improve the schools, calling it an important investment for the future that will benefit their family. But Nick Bennette added that he can understand the difficulty for someone who doesn’t have any direct connection to the schools.
“It is a significant tax increase, and it was hard to see if there was good communication of the indirect benefits of investing in kids, ultimately benefiting the community,” he said.
Something that he said he felt wasn’t communicated well was that this money is likely to be spent one way or the other. “We can decide how we spend it now, or we can wait until things break and we don’t have a choice in how we have to spend money for improvements and updates,” Bennette said.
Although he said he supported the bond to modernize the high school, Jeremy Hill said he thought the proposal would have appealed to more voters if it was offered in pieces. “If it’s voted down, I think we could probably attribute it to the fact that they tied multiple issues into one vote,” he said. “I feel like had they separated out the issues and given voters more of a choice, we would be accomplishing at least part of our goal.”
Lynne Bortree, whose children went through the local schools and grandchildren are there now, said she voted in favor of the bond but she was afraid it wasn’t going to pass. “It’s an awful lot of money,” she said. “There are certainly a lot of older people in the community that maybe don’t have family members [in school] and just feel like they can’t support it if it raises their taxes.”
Several voters who said they voted against the bond did not want to discuss their votes further beyond saying the amount was “just too much money.”
Bindy Kirk said the amount of the bond and the tax increases it would bring showed that the school board was not listening to people in the community. “I don’t think it’s going to pass. People have had enough in terms of control of the school and in terms of property taxes,” Kirk said.
Several voters including Duffy said they found it difficult to understand the details of the bond proposal. “Messaging could have used improvements, it was not clear, I had to do extra research,” he said.
Driving up in Duxbury
Duxbury once again used its new drive-through voting set-up created last year for elections during the pandemic. Town Clerk Maureen Harvey and Assistant Town Clerk Bonnie Morse were on site all day with a steady stream of cars moving through.
Elections official Greg Trulson worked the entry booth with Harvey, checking in voters and handing out ballots. Trulson said voters seem happy with the system and that he hasn’t received any negative feedback. “It’s very efficient. No one has to park and get out of the car. It’s faster for them and it’s faster for us,” he said.
Volunteers Shawnee Perry and Dan Cardozo were stationed with Morse under a tent at the other end of the drive-through collecting ballots. They said there were people waiting to vote when they arrived to open at 7 a.m. And as the weather went from sunny to rainy to cold, there were few lulls throughout the day.
After the polls closed, Harvey said 426 people cast ballots including six who registered on the spot as allowed by Vermont’s same-day registration provision. That was 37% of the town’s registered voters and the second-best turnout of the school district’s six communities. The only town with a greater turnout was Waitsfield with 557 or 37.5% of its registered voters participating, according to Town Clerk Jennifer Peterson.
Waterbury Town Clerk Carla Larwrence said turnout there totaled 1,217 which was just 27% of those registered.