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Vermonters Use Town Meetings To Grapple With Growth

March 2, 1988

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) _ Vermont residents used their annual town meetings to bolster efforts to save family farms and grapple with growth.

One town voted to exempt silos from property taxes and another declared its population growth rate too high.

The votes Tuesday reflected concern that Vermont’s rural heritage is being gobbled up by condominiums, resort developments and vacation homes. That issue was the focus of a special commission created by Gov. Madeleine Kunin that recommended a comprehensive package of legislation to control growth and save open land.

The town meetings, a mainstay of local government in which residents vote on town budgets and perennial issues such as road repairs, took up the growth controversy during debates of zoning regulations, expansions of planning staffs and other proposals.

Pawlet residents voted 249-178 to exempt farm silos from the property tax, though proponents ackowledged it would mean a savings of only $200 a year for each of the town’s 17 farms.

″It’s going to be a combination of these little things that keep the farmers going,″ said state Rep. Perry Waite.

In Wallingford, residents tried to go even further, approving a proposal to exempt local farms from paying any property tax on farm land or buildings.

For technical reasons the vote was not binding, said Board Chairman Robert Barker.

″We determined, though, the selectmen have the authority to institute this program,″ he said. ″And I think there’s support for it. I’m for it.″

In Woodstock, residents were asked to recommend a preferred population growth rate for the community, ranging from 0.66 percent, the highest annual growth rate the town had between 1890 and 1970, to 2.5 percent, the average so far this decade.

They opted for the middle range of 0.9 percent, far below the present growth rate.

″If the populace makes it loud and clear it doesn’t want rapid growth, perhaps the town could control growth by setting up certain conservation areas, or by steering patterns of development and population densities,″ said John Wiggin, a member of a group studying growth in the community.

Growth wasn’t the only issue on the minds of voters at town meetings. In Corinth, the question of the day was whether the tiny hamlet at the town center is called Cookville or Cookeville.

Town Clerk Jack Learmonth had asked for the vote because of disagreements throughout history. ″Henceforth, it will be Cookeville,″ he said following the vote.

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