Cornwall Conservation Fund Appropriation Approved by 86% of Voters
Cornwall has had a Conservation Fund since 2016, proposed and defined by the Conservation Commission and Cornwall Planning Commission and approved by the Select Board. However, up until March 2021, there had been no approved appropriation of money into it. At the March 2020 Cornwall Town Meeting, voters approved the creation of a Conservation Fund Planning Group to study how towns in Vermont fund their conservation activities. This group collected data and communicated via email, telephone and Zoom meetings during the summer and fall. Building on the Study Group’s findings, the Conservation Commission warned an article for the 2021 Town Meeting requesting $3,500 to be placed in the Conservation Fund. The project ended successfully with an overwhelming numbers of Cornwall voters approving the appropriation.
1. Through the data gathering about conservation funds in other Vermont towns and through outreach to Cornwall citizens, the Conservation Commission gained a strong understanding of the benefits and drawbacks of differing methods for raising money for conservation projects
2. The Conservation Commission created a detailed report on how Vermont towns add monies into their Conservation Funds. This report was posted on the Cornwall Conservation Commission web site and is still available for viewing : http://cornwallvt.com/cornwall-conservation-commission/funding-cornwalls-conservation-work/
3. Through individual phone calls, lasting from 30-60 minutes to about twenty-five townspeople, the Conservation Commission gained valuable insight into how conservation is viewed in town, and how residents perceive different fund-raising methods for conservation.
4. Related to this project, the Conservation Commission hosted a Zoom panel on conserving land in October 2020. Thirty-seven people attended the program, which featured three experts. The link to the recording of the panel is available at:
5. 86% of the voters in Cornwall voted yes, to approve an appropriation of $3500 into the Conservation Fund, in the 2021/22 fiscal year.
As the Conservation Commission’s work on the Article progressed, the Commission continued to reach out to the Cornwall Select Board and the Cornwall Planning Commission. This proved to be beneficial: both groups served as sounding boards for different methods of raising monies for the Conservation Fund and gave the Conservation Commission useful feedback. The Conservation Commission, Planning Commission and Select Board have formed a five-person working group to draft more detailed guidelines and procedures for the conservation fund than the brief procedures put in place in 2015.
While the structure for the Cornwall Conservation Fund had been established in 2016, there was continuing resistance from the Select Board to placing money in the Fund, with indications that they would support only individual projects with a specified purpose. The Conservation Commission disagreed, feeling that a Fund balance that would increase in amount over several years could be of great benefit to the Town, and was the best way to respond rapidly to unforeseeable conservation opportunities. We also felt that Town residents should have the chance to indicate their views by voting on this new appropriation separate from the overall Town General Fund Budget. So, the Commission moved forward to place a separate Article on the ballot. Because of the pandemic, and the untraditional means we needed to use to disseminate information about the conservation fund, there was no guarantee that it would pass, given very close conservation fund votes in other towns in the past. However, with an 86% positive vote, this strategy actually demonstrates a very strong commitment to conservation on the part of town residents.
Because of the pandemic, we could not have in-person open forums or other in-person meetings to get feedback from the public. Instead, we relied on information in the Town Newsletter and on the town web site, a Zoom open forum (which only attracted two attendees), a small working group that included three people not on the Conservation Commission, and individual telephone calls to about twenty-five residents. We also made a 15-minute Power Point presentation at the Select Board’s Zoom informational meeting that preceded Cornwall’s Australian ballot vote. A major challenge was gathering signatures necessary for the Ballot article—this involved emailing each person from whom we were requesting a signature, setting a time to collect the signature, and socially distancing, masking and having sanitized pens available when getting the signature.