Homeless group fails to earn spot on Bennington ballot
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | January 26,2013
BENNINGTON — Falling short by 33 signatures, the Bennington Coalition for the Homeless failed to obtain enough signatures to earn a spot for its appropriation request of $25,000 on this year’s town meeting ballot.
But officials for the nonprofit are hoping the Select Board will show them some support Monday.
Kendy Skidmore, executive director for the coalition, said she had turned in 550 signatures Wednesday but didn’t learn until Thursday, the day petitions were due, that not all of the signatures were from registered voters in Bennington.
Skidmore said she had submitted the signatures early, hoping that would give her enough time to get more signatures if necessary.
Without the 420 signatures necessary to secure a place on the ballot, Skidmore has requested time at the Select Board meeting on Monday to ask the board members to intervene based on the unusual circumstances.
Skidmore said she hopes the Select Board will waive the 33 signatures and allow the coalition on the ballot for the amount requested. If not, she will ask them for a spot on the ballot for $7,500.
The justification for the lesser amount would be a change the Select Board made to its appropriations policy last year.
As of this year, any agency requesting more than $7,500 needs to submit a petition every year to justify a larger amount than most agencies receive. All agencies, regardless of the amount they request, will be required to submit a petition every three years.
If the coalition had requested $7,500, no petition would have been needed this year.
One other agency, the Bennington Free Clinic, is requesting an increase this year. In 2012, voters supported an appropriation of $4,500. This year, their request, supported by petitions, will be for $7,499.
The Southwestern Vermont Council on Aging’s request will be reduced this year. Their request for $9,900 was approved by voters in 2012 but this year they’ll be on the ballot for $7,500.
Town Manager Stuart Hurd said council officials contacted the Select Board’s members several days prior to the petitions being due and requested a place on the ballot for $7,500 because of concerns that they might not be able to get enough signatures before they were due Thursday.
Skidmore said it was a difficult task for the coalition, which is largely supported by volunteer efforts, to get signatures. They succeeded in Manchester, where this year’s request for $5,000 will be more than three times the $1,500 for which they were approved in 2012.
“But the largest percentage of services we provide and people we serve are in Bennington. We feel we provide a vital service and we can’t do it without the town’s support,” Skidmore said.
Skidmore said she hoped residents of Bennington who believe in the importance of the coalition’s work would come to the Select Board meeting to show their support.
“If they do allow us on the ballot, I also hope they’ll come out to vote yes,” she added.
The coalition expanded its services in Bennington recently by opening an emergency shelter on North Street. The new site offers very short-term shelter but those in need can get a room quickly, which Skidmore has said could save lives during a cold snap like the one Southern Vermont is currently experiencing.
The Select Board meeting will start at 6 p.m. at the Bennington fire facility.