Westport holds annual town meeting amid social distancing

SE Mass

WESTPORT, Mass. (WPRI) — The pandemic has put many aspects of our lives on hold, the democratic process is not one of them, especially in the town of Westport.

They got creative to still hold their annual vote, while social distancing and beating the heat.

It’s a unique style of small town government, the Town Meeting. It’s held once a year in Westport allowing voters to come out and make their decisions that matter most to them. Of the utmost importance this year was the school budget. And usually this meeting is held inside Westport High School, but due to COVID-19 restrictions, it was held outdoors.

Westport’s politics is so important to at least 200 residents that the high school’s parking lots were filled with cars at 9 a.m. on a Saturday. Voters were carrying their own lawn chairs and sun umbrellas while getting their temperatures checked as they read off their addresses behind masks, speaking across plexiglass partitions.

Only then could they set up on the athletic fields and partake in the American rite of voting.

“They’re usually around 350 people, town meetings I think the average. I think we did pretty well, considering. I think it might be a little less than that today , but I’m saying at least 250-300 anyway, my guess,” said voter Michael Brown.

They didn’t have to submit a ballot, but simply stood up or held a pink sign to support or disapprove of some 31 articles, many involving the town’s budget for fiscal year 2021.

Article 2, the school budget, was a big one. The finance committee says it is facing shortfalls.

“How will all these teachers, these positions and programs in the school department be funded in FY22 when in fact we’ll have a reduction in revenue. We just can’t keep on going to the free cash to support our budget.”

An overwhelming majority approved $150,000 dollars in free cash that would prevent cutting teacher’s positions, for now.

“What we would be looking at is three teachers that we would lose at this time and I couldn’t think of a worse time to lose teachers with the amount of separating that we have to do with students and all of the requirements with COVID so it’s really encouraging to see the town come out and be so supportive,” said Thomas Aubin, Assistant Superintendent of Westport Schools

The total school budget just under $18.6 million. Amidst the pandemic, the town is still planning to open a newly built school in mid-September.

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