1. Listers can’t be forced to
use an appraiser. The law gives the listers the duty to examine
and appraise the property in the town for the purpose of setting the
grand list. The law provides that "When a board of listers are of
the opinion that expert advice or assistance is needed in making any
appraisal required by law, they may, with approval of selectmen or
by vote of the town, employ such assistance." 32 V.S.A. § 4041. No
law would require them to do so.
2. Selectboard may hire appraiser when the
town cannot find enough listers to perform duties. In 2003, in
response to the difficulties many towns were having finding people
willing to serve as listers in their towns, and the need to keep the
town’s appraisals up to date, the legislature added the following
provision. "Notwithstanding any other provisions of law to the
contrary, in the event the board of listers of a municipality falls
below a majority and the selectboard is unable to find a person or
persons to appoint as a lister or listers, the selectboard may
appoint an assessor to perform the duties of a lister. . . until the
next annual meeting." 17 V.S.A. § 2651c.The appointed person need
not be a resident of the municipality and has the same powers and is
subject to the same duties and penalties as a duly elected lister
for the municipality.
3. Listers should never appraise their own
property or property of family members. It is a conflict of
interest for a lister to appraise property that is his or her own,
or the property of a family member. It is important that the
community have faith in the objectivity of the tax appraisals. An
important way to maintain that faith is by ensuring that listers do
not participate in assessments of property where they might have a
real or financial interest.
4. Road commissioner has limited authority.
At one time the road commissioners had authority to maintain the
town roads. Indeed, in a 1960 court case, Couture v. Selectmen of
Berkshire, 121 Vt. 359 (1960) the court held that the
selectboard could not lock a road commissioner out of the town
garage (because they didn’t trust him with the town’s equipment)
saying that the selectmen had no authority to dictate how the road
commissioner did his job. However, in 1974 the legislature changed
the law, giving the selectboard the sole authority for keeping the
town highways "in repair." 19 V.S.A. § 101. This means that today,
the road commissioner – whether elected or appointed – has only
those responsibilities delegated to him or her by the selectboard.
19 V.S.A. § 304(16).
5. Vote to make road commissioner an
elective office must be taken at the annual town meeting. The
law permits the voters to petition the selectboard to place an
article on the annual meeting warning to make the position of road
commissioner elected rather than appointed. 17 V.S.A. § 2652.
Because the law specifically references the annual meeting we do not
think it is possible to consider this question at a special meeting
of the town.
6. Town managers may serve as road
commissioner. A town manager takes the place of a road
commissioner so that no commissioner can or need be elected in towns
that have a town manager form of government. 24 V.S.A. § 1236(5), If
the town manager form of government should be voted out in a town,
the selectboard may appoint someone to fill out the term.
7. Appointed road commissioner can be a
non-resident. If towns elect their
road commissioners, he or she must be a resident of the town since
elected officials are chosen from among legally qualified voters. 17
V.S.A. § 2646 and 2650. However, because the law does not constrain
the selectboard when it appoints commissioners it is possible for
the selectboard to appoint a non-resident to serve.
8. County road commissioners are appointed by
the superior court. Three county road
commissioners shall be appointed annually by the superior court in
each county. No two such commissioners may be from the same town, we
suppose to avoid any chance of favoritism, and they may be removed
at any time by the judges. The law gives them the authority to sign
subpoenas requiring witnesses to appear before them, to administer
oaths, and to receive $30 per day and expenses, while attending to
the duties of the office. 19 V.S.A. § 970. The commissioners serve
as an appeal body from selectboard, if selectboard refuse to act on
complaints filed with them for defect or want of repairs of any
highway or bridge in the county. The commissioners have the power to
order repairs, to determine what work is necessary, and to fix the
amount of money required to make the repairs. 19 V.S.A. § 971.
9. Vermont marriages/civil unions require no
witness. Vermont law requires
marriages or civil unions to be solemnized by a justice, a resident
minister or priest, or a duly authorized minister or priest from
another state. 18 V.S.A. § 5144. Unlike other states, Vermont does
not require that there be any additional witness to the ceremony.
10. No marriage/civil union license by mail.
Generally speaking, at least one of
the parties to a marriage or civil union must appear in person to
fill out the necessary form at the clerk’s office. The law provides
that after the license form is filled out, "at least one party to
the proposed marriage [or civil union] shall sign the certifying
application to the accuracy of the facts so stated," and the clerk
must retain a copy. 18 V.S.A. § 5131. Note that the license must be
issued by the clerk of the town where either the bride or groom
resides or, if neither is a resident of the state, by any town clerk
in the state.
11. Marriage/civil union must be solemnized
within sixty days. The law requires a marriage to be solemnized
within sixty days of the license being issued. If it is not, then
the license becomes void. After the marriage is solemnized the
person who performed the ceremony must sign the license and return
it to the town clerk who issued it within ten days. 18 V.S.A. §
5131. The town clerk retains and files the original.
12. Marriage/civil union is good, even if
minister isn’t. The law does not
authorize an out of state minister to perform marriages in Vermont
without special advance authority from the probate court, and the
minister had not applied for this authority. 18 V.S.A. § 5144.
Luckily, 18 V.S.A. § 5147(b) provides that "[a] marriage solemnized
before a person professing to be a justice or a minister of the
gospel shall not be void nor the validity thereof affected for want
of jurisdiction or authority in such supposed justice or minister,
providing that the marriage is in other respects lawful and is
consummated with a belief on the part of the persons so married, or
either of them, that they were lawfully joined in marriage." A
similar provision exists for civil unions. We regularly get asked
whether Vermonters who have received a mail order or on-line
"ordination" from the Universal Life Church or similar denominations
may perform marriages or Civil Unions in Vermont. We tell them that
until a court considers this we will not know for sure – but that,
in any case, the marriage or civil union will be considered valid.
13. Selectboard may set weight limits on town
roads. The selectboard may set limits
on town highways by designation, pursuant to 23 V.S.A. § 1396-1400,
and the board may request that the secretary of transportation
designate a lower weight limit on class 1 town highways, so long as
a reasonable alternative route is available for those vehicles
traveling at the state highway limit. The law also provides that,
"except as otherwise provided, the designated legal load limit for
the highway or bridge shall not be less than twenty thousand pounds
for a single traction engine, tractor, trailer, motor truck or other
motor vehicle for the state system or any class 1 or 2 town highway
nor less than sixteen thousand pounds for any other town highway."
Notice must be posted and a certified statement filed with the town
clerk. The limit may not be lifted for individual trucks or users,
however, except by the issuance of a permit by the Commissioner of
Motor Vehicles, with the approval of the Transportation Board. If
the permit is to extend to more than four single trips, the
Commissioner also needs the approval of the selectmen, who may
accept compensation "commensurate with the extra wear or maintenance required" on the highway
or bridges involved. Also, the weight limits will not apply to fire
and rescue vehicles or municipal or state construction vehicles.
14. Selectboard may name streets.
A town, city or incorporated village may name or
rename streets and number and renumber lots, when a municipality
accepts a private street or highway as a public street or highway.
24 V.S.A. § 4463.
15. Teachers’ contract is public record.
A school board may not refuse to
provide the public with the contracts for its employees. Although 1
V.S.A. § 317(b)(15) exempts "records relating specifically to
negotiation of contracts including but not limited to collective
bargaining agreements with public employees," this provision does
not apply to a contract itself. The exemption involves only records
relating to contract negotiation. Once a contract is entered into
the public has the right to see it.
16. Confidential memos may not be private.
Even if the selectboard receives correspondence marked
"confidential," it may be a public record. Merely marking something
secret doesn’t make it so under Vermont’s Access to Public Records
law. The document must be statutorily defined as not a public
document. I V.S.A. § 317(b).
17. Delinquent tax collector may be paid a
salary. A town may vote to pay a
salary or other compensation for collection taxes in lieu of fees
and commissions to the collector of taxes or collector of delinquent
taxes. An amendment to 24 V.S.A. §1530 effective April 29, 1998,
allows towns to vote a salary for the delinquent tax collector in
lieu of fees or commissions. If this is voted at an annual meeting,
the fees and commissions shall be turned in to the municipal
treasurer at least once a month.
18. Vote to discontinue Australian Ballot
is a public question. A vote to discontinue using Australian is
a public question and must be voted on the way your town or school
district votes its public questions. This means that if you vote
questions on the floor, this question must also be considered by
voice vote from the floor, unless your town or district has already
voted to consider this specific public question by Australian
ballot. 17 V.S.A. §2680. There are sometimes very strongly
held differences of opinion on the benefits of floor debate and
voice voting or Australian ballot. Some districts have gone back and
forth on the form of voting issue several times. However, unless
there has been a vote to use Australian Ballot to vote all public
questions, or the specific public question of whether to vote by
Australian ballot, the vote must be by voice from the floor.
19. Polling places must be in accessible
public locations. Each polling place
must be in a public place in the voting district (unless all
districts in your town vote at one polling place) as designated by
the board of civil authority; however, the voters may designate
different polling places at an annual or special meeting. 17
V.S.A. §§2501, 2502. Boards of civil authority and/or town voters
must choose polling places that are accessible to people with
disabilities. We also strongly recommend that polling places be in
nonsectarian (not affiliated with religion) locations whenever
possible. Although rulings in court cases in other states have
upheld the use of a church all-purpose room when absolutely no other
public place is located in the voting district, it is a best
practice to take this time between elections to find and designate a
truly public place.
20. The selectboard and school board may loan
money to each other secured by a note signed by the board.
16 V.S.A. §429. When a school board or selectboard loans the other
municipality funds, the board should sign a note that stipulates the
terms, and the note must be payable upon demand or mature within
three months from the date of issue. Obviously, the boards need to
have the funds available and be willing to cooperate, but we felt it
was worth a reminder since this option may be helpful for the
management of cash-flow in some communities.
21. Special town or special school district
meetings may be held on any day chosen by the legislative body, so
long as appropriately warned. Special
town or special school district meetings may be held on any day
chosen by the legislative body, so long as appropriately
warned. If other town or school boards happen to be meeting on the
same day, the meeting places need to be separated, but there is no
prohibition to prevent several meetings from being scheduled
simultaneously. It may not be appreciated by voters if they are
interested in attending all of the meetings, so we do suggest
coordinating with a "master calendar" before scheduling, but it is
not required by law.
22. Selectboard has the sole responsibility
for appointing members of the zoning Board of Adjustment.
Some towns have, through tradition, allowed
zoning Board of Adjustment members to recommend individuals to the Selectboard to fill unexpired terms on the
zoning BA. Nevertheless, the
statute is clear that the Selectboard has the sole responsibility
for appointing members of the zoning Board of Adjustment.
24 VSA, § 4460. The Selectboard also decides the number of members and their terms. When
a vacancy occurs, the Selectboard should post a notice of the
vacancy, and may request interested persons to send a letter of
interest or resume and may invite interested persons to "interview"
with the Board. However, the statute does not specify the particular
procedures to use.
Errata: Please note the changes to Opinions
#22. The correct statutory reference is
24 VSA, § 4460, not 17 VSA, § 4461
as stated in the original Opinion. Also, the recent laws have
changes the title from Zoning Board of Adjustment to Board of
23. Revotes of school budgets voted on the
floor require at least 30 day’s warning.
If the town school district budget is defeated in a town that votes
its budget from the floor, the school board must warn the subsequent
vote on its budget at least 30 days prior to the special meeting.
Vermont law allows for a shorter warning period for budgets that are
voted by Australian budget (7 days) in 17 V.S.A. §2680, but there is
no such exception for floor votes.
24. Reserve funds are controlled by the
legislative body. If a town has
established a reserve fund for a special purpose, such as a reserve
fund for highway equipment, the statute provides that the reserve
fund is to be under the control and direction of the legislative
body (Selectboard or School Board). 17 V.S.A. §2804. Once a
reserve fund is established and funded by town vote, the Board may
expend the funds for such purposes for which the fund was
established without another town vote. If the legislative
body wants to spend those reserve funds for any other purpose, then
the spending must be authorized by a majority of voters at an annual
or special meeting.
25. Village BCA members live in the
village. The Board of Civil Authority of a village consists of
the Justices of the Town who reside in the village, the trustees of
the village, and the village clerk. Other Justices of the Peace who
reside in the Town but not in the village cannot be involved in
administering village elections. 17 V.S.A. §2103(5).
26. Village voters on the town checklist are
on the village checklist. A village
clerk shall automatically include all voters living within the
village who are on the Town checklist. 17 V.S.A. §2126. There
is no need for the voter to apply separately to the village clerk.
27. The regular presiding officer or an
assistant election official designated by the board of civil
authority must attend at least one workshop presented by the Office
of the Secretary of State every two years. 17 V.S.A. §2457(b).