Breaking Away

When a village breaks away from the parent town to become a city, do all residents have an opportunity to vote on the city's incorporation?

The question is based on the fact that an incorporated village remains a part of its parent town; indeed, village residents are also town residents with all the associated rights, privileges, and obligations that brings.

The General Assembly has taken different approaches over time. In most cases the city incorporation act simply required a vote of the incorporated village. If the village seeking incorporation as a city sought to embrace land beyond village limits or was not incorporated, then town and village voters were provided the opportunity to vote. While our research is hardly comprehensive, what we did find suggests that city incorporation bills are more likely to succeed when the vote is restricted to village residents and more likely to fail when town and village voters decide on whether to activate the enabling legislation. Clearly this is an area that invites further research.

It appears that Winooski, the most recent incorporated village to become a city, did so through a vote of village residents only. An inquiry to the municipal clerks of Colchester and Winooski did not turn up any records of a town vote on Winooski's incorporation as a city. Under the 1921 act (Act 314) creating the City of Winooski, Colchester voters only got to decide whether to allow school district No. 7 to become part of the city (Sec. 57, Act 314).

Section 57 also directed only the village residents to vote the question; “shall the charter of the proposed city of Winooski enacted by the General Assembly of the State of Vermont of 1921 be adopted?”

The complex and extended debates over the creation of the City of Rutland, 1880 to 1892, ultimately involved just a vote of the incorporated village, though only after the original Town of Rutland was divided into the Towns of Proctor and West Rutland. A portion of Michael Chernick's excellent paper on the incorporation fights with the Town of Rutland, delivered May 25, 1999 to the Vermont Judicial History Society meeting in Rutland is reproduced here with the permission of Mr. Chernick and Paul Gillies of the Judicial History Society.

Burlington, the first village to become a city (1864), presents a different scenario, though in this case the village of Burlington was not incorporated. In 1852 the voters of the Town of Burlington voted, under Acts 85 and 86 of 1852, on whether to accept incorporation of a City of Burlington, encompassing the area of the village, or whether to incorporate the village. In two separate votes both measures were rejected.

Act 98 of 1864 incorporated the City of Burlington, again encompassing the area of the village, contingent on a vote of approval by the Town. On January 18, 1865 town residents voted 452 to 219 to accept incorporation of the City of Burlington. The Archives does not have population figures for the village and town, though the 1860 Census reported 7,713 people living in Burlington and, in 1870, 14,387 city residents and 791 South Burlington residents. This suggests that village voters, if they spoke with a single purpose, could easily outvote the rest of the town.

The remaining portion of the old Town of Burlington became the Town of South Burlington. For more on the incorporation of the City of Burlington see Barry Salussolia, “The City of Burlington and Municipal Incorporation in Vermont,” Vermont History Vol. 54, pp. 5-19; the article is drawn from Mr. Salussolia’s UVM master’s thesis.

In 1902, Act 228 allowed for the incorporation of a city and town of St. Johnsbury. Section 2 provided for votes of town and incorporated village residents on whether to accept the act. The act was not accepted and the proposed City of St. Johnsbury was not created.

A similar result followed Act 190 of 1923, “An Act to Incorporate a City of Brattleboro and to Establish a new Town of Brattleboro.” Again, town and village residents were allowed a vote on effecting the enabling legislation (Section 64). The city was not created.

This page was last updated: 2016-01-26