Montpelier continues to be among the statewide leaders in the percentage of eligible residents with at least one COVID-19 vaccination, and as a result the city’s mandatory mask order is set to be lifted on June 15.
More than 90 percent of the city’s population over the age of 12 has received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Vermont Department of Health. That compares to 79 percent statewide, 80.4 percent in Washington County, 81–90 percent in Barre, and 41–50 percent in Gov. Phil Scott’s hometown of Berlin, according to data as of June 5 (the Health Department website cautions that these numbers may not be completely accurate).
Scott has said he will lift all COVID-19 restrictions by July 4 or sooner if the statewide vaccination percentage reaches 80 percent. As of Monday roughly 4,000 more Vermonters still need to receive at least one dose to reach that magic number.
The Montpelier City Council passed an emergency order just over a year ago that required anyone entering or working in a public establishment to wear a face mask, with a few exceptions. The council voted 4–2 at its May 26 meeting to lift the mandate on June 15, barring any new developments in the pandemic.
Mayor Anne Watson said downtown businesses, which have had a lack of customers and decreased revenue for the past 15 months, are hopeful that summer and fall tourists return to the capital city.
“There is a sense of optimism,” she said. “People are feeling more hopeful and starting to come out. Much of the income for downtown businesses comes from out-of-towners.”
Business owners can still require masks to be worn in their stores or restaurants after the emergency order is lifted, and those individuals who aren’t ready to ditch their masks just yet should be supported, she said.
“It’s OK to continue to be cautious,” Watson said.
A city charter change approved by voters in November 2018 is still in limbo. Residents voted 2,857–1,488 in favor of allowing non-citizens of the U.S. to vote in municipal elections. The charter change then went to the state legislature for what was expected to be routine approval.
The proposal was sidelined by the pandemic and by some lawmakers’ concerns about the appropriateness of allowing legal immigrants to vote, even on local matters.
The charter change was finally approved by the legislature (along with a similar attempt in Winooski) last month, but the bill was vetoed by Gov. Scott, who said the legislature should create the framework for a statewide system of non-citizen voting, rather than allowing a local approach.
“Allowing a highly variable town-by-town approach to municipal voting creates inconsistency in election policy, as well as separate and unequal classes of residents potentially eligible to vote on local issues,” Scott said in his veto message.
Lawmakers are scheduled to meet this month in a veto session to consider overriding Scott’s veto. It’s unclear whether there are enough votes to overturn his decision.
Mayor Watson, who supports the charter change, said it makes sense to let Montpelier and Winooski go first.
“I do think there is logic in letting Montpelier and Winooski be a demonstration case so that it has a better chance of passing at the state level when it becomes time,” she said.
Montpelier’s charter change makes it clear that only people who are in the country legally would be eligible to vote, defining potential new voters as “any noncitizen who resides in the United States on a permanent or indefinite basis in compliance with federal immigration laws.”
No date has been set for the veto session.
The council will continue its discussion of what to do with just over $2.1 million in money coming from the American Rescue Plan Act. The money will arrive in two batches over the next year.
The council agreed on funding about $1.5 million in items that were cut from the FY20 and FY21 budgets. The council will discuss options for the rest of the money at its next meeting on June 9 (starting at 7:15 p.m. rather than the usual 6:30 p.m.)
Among the suggestions is the creation of public restrooms in the downtown area, support for low-income residents, and support for businesses hit hard by the pandemic, Watson said.