By Tom Brown
Montpelier residents were almost equally divided on granting the City Council the authority to regulate energy efficiency in homes and businesses. Voters on Town Meeting Day approved a proposed charter change that would allow the council to write and enforce energy efficiency standards by a vote of 928-896.
The council wanted the charter change to begin a discussion on ways to increase energy efficiency in Montpelier buildings and help the city achieve its net zero energy goals. In part, the aim was to provide incentive for some landlords to increase the energy efficiency of rental units and make them more affordable to tenants who pay their own heating bills.
However, chatter on public forums, such as Front Page Forum, indicated that some tenants were concerned that such a mandate would cause landlords to simply increase rents to compensate for their investment in efficiency.
It is uncertain what steps the council or those who opposed the charter change might take in the wake of the narrow 32-vote margin. If the charter change vote stands it would require approval from the state Legislature, which is currently reviewing two other Montpelier charter changes that were passed by voters in November.
Montpelier Mayor Anne Watson the narrow vote means that a lot of resident want to have discussions around the issue of energy efficiency but also means the Council will have to work very hard to get it right.
“It was a tighter margin than I would have hoped,” Watson said of the charter change vote. “But think that this gives us a pretty clear message to be cautious and that is, I think, entirely appropriate. I welcome that message that we should go slowly here and be very careful and have a lot of public dialogue and I am really excited to have that public dialogue.”
She said one reason for the close vote might have been that there was no concrete proposal on the table and that public discussions, before legislative approval and certainly before the creation of any specific ordinances, could help to narrow the focus. Watson also said that the solid endorsement of municipal spending measures was a nice “vote of confidence” for city government.
The charter change, which was Article 14 on the ballot, was the only close decision. All of the city and school spending measures were strongly approved, as was a $350,471 item to support the Kellogg-Hubbard Library.
There were no contested for any elected office. Lauren Hierl will be the new face on the City Council as she won the District 1 seat vacated by Rosie Krueger. Ashley Hill was re-elected in District 3, and Jack McCullough won in District 2 after having been appointed to replace Mayor Anne Watson a year ago. Kassia Randzio won a five-year seat on the Parks commission, and Shelby Perry won a two-year seat on that board.
On the school side, Steve Hingtgen was reelected to the Montpelier-Roxbury School Board and Andrew Stein won after being appointed to replace Peter Sterling. Tammy Legacy was elected School Clerk and Shelley Quinn was elected as Treasurer. Kim Cheney was elected to the Central Vermont Public Service Authority board.
The absence of contest perhaps led to the low voter turnout, which City Clerk John Odum put at about 24 percent.
Following are the preliminary vote totals:
— Park Commission (5 years): Kassia Randzio 1,406 votes.
— Park Commission (2 years): Shelby Perry 1,390.
— School Director (vote for two): Andrew Stein 1,295; Steve Hingtgen 1,234.
— Council District 1: Lauren Hierl 492.
— Council District: Jack McCullough 517.
— Council District 3: Ashley Hill 402.
— School Clerk: Tammy Legacy 1,381.
— School Treasurer: Shelley B. Quinn 1,403 .
— Central Vermont Public Service Authority: Kimberley B. Cheney 1,412.
— School Moderator and Cemetery Commissioner: No candidate.
— Article 5 ($9,466,121 municipal budget): Yes 1,503, No 317.
— Article 6 ($23,813,218 school budget): Yes 1,364, No 479.
— Article 7 ($260,000 school capital reserve): Yes 1,230, No 585.
— Article 8 ($4,000 mayor compensation): Yes 1,572, No 256.
— Article 9 ($2,000 each council compensation): Yes 1,557, No 272.
— Article 10 ($1,500 chair, $1,200 vice chair, $1,000 other members school board compensation): Yes 1,512, No 315.
— Article 11 (School fund balance): Yes 1,465, No 333.
— Article 12 (Designated Improvement District): Yes 1,266, No 524.
— Article 13 ($350,471 for Kellogg-Hubbard Library): Yes 1,567, No 270.
— Article 14: (Energy efficiency charter change): Yes 928, No 896.
More coverage in the March 20 issue of The Bridge.