By Lydia Clemmons, Charlotte

The Town of Charlotte will have a Special Town Meeting on April 11, 2017

Greetings from Ethiopia. I headed out here on Town Meeting Day for my usual quarterly work visit. The weekend after I arrived, 65 people, mostly women and children, were killed when the largest dump in Ethiopia collapsed around them. The dump, located just outside of Addis Ababa, where I am working, is home to a community of squatters who scavenge through the rubbish for food, clothing and items to sell.

For the past week or so, I find myself wide awake at 3 a.m. This is in due in various parts to my jet lag (there is a seven-hour time difference between Charlotte and Addis), the tragedy at the dump, the Ethiopian coffee I drink all day long (so delicious that I just can’t help myself), and the hourly U.S. news cliff-hanger updates on our government’s plans to cut the federal budget on so many things (health care insurance for the poor and the elderly, our children’s education the arts and humanities, the protection of our environment and natural resources, the protection of consumers). I lie awake wondering what our lives will be like a year from now and how much we, as individuals, as families, as a community and as a state, will be able to fill in the gaps. I am worried for all of us and especially for those of us who are the most vulnerable.

In between reading about the U.S. government’s budget cuts and watching the local television newscasts about the rescue efforts here, I also read the Charlotte Front Porch Forum. These are probably the absolute worst circumstances for me to be contributing to the discussions about the Town Link Trail. But then again, perhaps these are the absolute best circumstances for me to be doing this.

This year’s proposed town budget is increasing by $169,344—from $3,028,046 last year to a proposed $3,182,907 this year. This year’s proposed trails budget is eight times larger than last year’s—increasing from $5,000 to $40,000. This increase accounts for more than 20 percent of the increase in this year’s overall town budget.

Town Charts says that Charlotte has 3,822 residents and 1,706 households. Most of us are well off: our median household income is about $114,000. Some households have higher incomes than this, and some households have lower incomes. In fact, 119 households in Charlotte (7.1 percent) are on public assistance, and 3.1 percent of households in Charlotte are earning incomes below the poverty level. While most of us (94 percent) have health insurance, 6 percent of us do not, 18 percent of us are on Medicare, and 9 percent of us are on Medicaid or public coverage.

What will happen to our most vulnerable Charlotters when the federal budget cuts kick in? How will our friends and neighbors who are already struggling financially continue to pay their property taxes when they increase every year? How much longer will the rest of us be able to do so? I know that I am not the only Charlotter lying awake at night worrying about the implications of the impending cuts to health care, education, social services and the environment. We are a caring community. I know we are.

And yet, in this year’s town budget, our property taxes are supporting just $25,124 for donations to social services programs such as the Visiting Nurses ($9,092), the American Red Cross ($1,500), COTS ($750) and child care resources ($750). Our budget doesn’t include a donation to the Chittenden County Food Shelf this year. Meanwhile, our town budget is already supporting a $100,777 budget for recreation (Charlotte beach, skating rink, trails and compensation for the people who manage and run these recreational programs).

In sum, this year’s proposed town budget spends a total of $140,777 on recreation compared to a total of $113,313 on social services (including $94,189 for the Senior Center) and $6,150 on conservation (things like water quality monitoring, invasive control and Green Up Day).

Positive actions that support the trails without increasing taxes and exacerbating an already disturbing imbalance between recreation and social services in our town budget:

  1. Vote “no” for a $40,000 trails budget (you have still already voted “yes” for the $5,000 trails budget);
  2. Set up a “Go Fund Me” campaign and donate to the Town Link Trail;
  3. Those who use the Town Link Trail pay an annual fee or a single-entry fee each time; and
  4. Volunteer some of your time and labor to build more trails.

When next year’s budget comes along, more families will face financial hardship if the federal cuts go as planned. Trails and recreation are important. Being a caring community is also important.