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Wendell voters narrowly approve changing local voting age to 16

  • Johanna Bartlett, chairwoman of the Wendell School Committee and Wendell's representative on the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School District School Committee, explains a significant increase in Wendell's education budget during annual town meeting, held Saturday, June 10, 2017 at Town Hall. —Recorder Staff/Shelby Ashline



Recorder Staff
Saturday, June 10, 2017

WENDELL — Following Shelburne’s example, Wendell voters approved lowering the voting age to 16 for local elections and town meetings by a vote of 22 to 16 during annual town meeting Saturday.

With a narrow vote, opinions were split on whether 16-year-olds are mature enough to vote responsibly.

“These are children,” resident Joe Diemand said. “They’re not out there working, they’re home playing video games. I don’t think they’re mature enough to be making these kinds of decisions.”

In particular, Diemand wondered how 16-year-olds might handle monetary votes that would affect taxpayers.

“How many of these kids are paying taxes?” he said.

Johanna Bartlett, chairwoman of the Wendell School Committee and Wendell’s representative on the Ralph C. Mahar Regional School District School Committee, voiced her concern about teenagers’ ability to make thoughtful choices, saying “research shows their impulse control systems aren’t developed until they’re in their 20s.”

Other residents argued that it is not necessary to be a taxpayer to vote, and that sweeping generalizations about youth cannot be justified.

“A nearby town … adopted something similar,” said resident Ray DiDonato, recalling Shelburne’s vote in early May. “I think having our youth involved is a great thing … Personally, I think it’s a great way to have our youth involved in the political system even earlier.”

“I think the more responsibility we give them, the quicker they might mature,” added resident Nina Keller.

Budget

The proposed change to the voting age represented Article 29 on the annual town meeting warrant, a meeting which attracted 70 voters.

Looking at next year’s budget, voters approved the requested $2,450,798, despite some residents’ questions regarding broadband related expenses and the fee for ambulance services from Orange, which increased from $14,915 to $21,795.

“Everyone’s costs have gone up,” Finance Committee Chairman Doug Tanner said.

The primary increase came from the schools and education budget, which saw an increase from $1,195,404 this year to $1,334,260 next year. According to a presentation given by Tanner, the schools and education budget represents 54 percent of the overall town budget.

Bartlett explained the reason for the increase is a spike in enrollment at Swift River School, which had 47 students in 2015 and 72 students this year.

“Part of this budget is placing more people in early grades,” she continued. Bartlett hopes the plan will help curb children’s learning struggles at a young age, as well as offer support for students who require special support, such as students who are homeless or recovering from trauma.

Residents were eager to support their school, with Edward Hines praising Swift River School’s quality education, which he believes is behind the spiked enrollment.

“Word is getting out about this school,” he said.

To compensate for a large school budget, Finance Committee member Garrett Sawyer said the town will have fewer capital projects. Tanner expects the tax rate will be a little over $20 per thousand dollar valuation.

Other articles

After lengthy discussion and three amendments, voters also approved a resolution in support of 100 percent renewable energy. Though Wendell is already acting to reduce its carbon emissions and promote clean energy, under the nonbinding resolution, the town will avoid actions that could increase the use of fossil fuels while promoting clean energy through, for example, solar projects and energy efficient updates.

Other articles: allocating $5,000 for Fire Department turnout gear; allocating $28,127 to pay for Wendell’s share of capital projects at Swift River School; allowing the Selectboard to negotiate an interim agreement among the owners of the McAvoy dam to apportion the costs of engineering and contracting for the removal of trees on the dam and their root balls if necessary, and allocating $10,000 to cover the town’s share of such costs; and passing a resolution to support the Medicare for All bill in Massachusetts.

You can reach Shelby Ashline at: sashline@recorder.com

413-772-0261 ext. 257