KILLINGTON, Vt. – Voting with a thunderous "aye," residents endorsed a plan Tuesday for this ski resort town to secede from Vermont.
The overwhelming voice vote inside the elementary school opened the next chapter in what could be a long and costly push to join New Hampshire, a state 25 miles to the east. Town officials estimated between 200 and 300 people attended the meeting, and that about two-thirds of them supported the idea in the voice vote.
"Other towns have been sitting back and waiting for Killington (search) to break ground," said Jim Blackman, 46. "It is Killington's obligation to break that ground."
Blackman's comments were echoed by many of the dozen-odd residents who spoke at the town meeting.
"I think the town has to be ready to get in cars and buses, and spend a lot of time talking to representatives in Montpelier," said Diane Rosenblum, a retiree who moved to Killington eight years ago. Vermont legislators would have to give permission for Killington to bolt from the state.
"I can see a continued negative impact on our school system in Killington," said Marty Post, a resident who said he was in favor of secession.
Post was referring to the state's system of financing education, adopted in 1997 under order of the Supreme Court, which dramatically increased property taxes in communities like Killington, deemed to be property wealthy.
Frustration over this system is what drove officials last fall to consider secession (search). The town already has spent about $20,000 studying the feasibility and possible advantages of joining New Hampshire, the state where the town was originally chartered in 1761.
Secession activists say the legality and economic rationale behind the plan are sound.
But not everyone at the meeting was completely in favor of the proposal.
"I was born and raised a Vermonter, and I hope to always be," said resident Julie Thomas, 38.
Pat Zack, a 60-year-old retiree, said she would only support seceding to New Hampshire if it meant lower property taxes.
"I don't want to be stuck paying higher property taxes," she said.
Vermont lawmakers -- who have the ultimate say whether Killington can become part of the Granite State -- have given the plan a lukewarm reception.
"Killington is very valuable to Vermont, and Vermont is valuable to Killington," said Harry Chen, a Democrat who represents Killington and three other towns in the state Legislature.
Chen sat in on part of the meeting, which also saw other action on a number of slightly less hot-button issues.
Residents debated switching the time of the annual meeting to the evening rather than the traditional morning and afternoon slot. And longtime town moderator Horace "Red" Glaze was re-elected, with no discussion, to serve that position for another year.
But it was the two-page resolution to secede that lured many to the elementary school, including representatives from the Free State Project (search), a libertarian group with a goal to attract people to move to New Hampshire.
The group presented Town Administrator David Lewis with a New Hampshire flag after the vote to much applause from residents.
Having won the endorsement of their constituents, town officials will now begin drafting a petition to present to New Hampshire Gov. Craig Benson and the state's Legislature.
Lewis said town officials want New Hampshire's approval before approaching the Vermont Legislature.
In an interview with The Associated Press Tuesday afternoon Benson said he was "tickled" at the vote but doesn't believe Killington will ever become part of New Hampshire.
"How do you take a piece of property completely removed from our borders? How do you connect it?" asked Benson. "I just don't know how you'd connect the dots."