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Town Meeting 2007 brings new budgets, debates and more

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03/09/2007

Voters from Warren to Moretown assembled this week to attend Town Meeting, approve or tinker with town and school budgets, elect officers and partake of the annual Town Meeting lunch.

Throughout The Valley, school budgets passed, as did the Harwood Union School budget. Two towns voted in a non-binding resolution to call for impeaching President Bush and Vice President Cheney. One town expanded its conservation commission, another created one, and a third converted its group from a committee to a commission.

Individual results from local towns follow. 

Fayston voters reject law enforcement proposal


By Ann B. Day



Fayston voters spent an hour debating the merits of whether or not the town should join other Valley towns in contracting with the Washington County Sheriff's Department for traffic enforcement before moderator David Jones called for a voice vote, then a stand up/sit down vote and finally a paper ballot vote during which the proposal was defeated 54 to 45. The proposal would have cost $8000 for the year and resulted in eight hours per week of traffic patrol in Fayston.

Waitsfield, Moretown and Warren currently contract with the Washington County Sheriff's Department for traffic enforcement in their towns. At issue for many Faystonians was the question of whether joining other towns in traffic enforcement was the best way to spend town money and whether it would be effective enough to justify spending $8000 a year. Proponents of the measure said that hiring a sheriff would be a way to join the police protection and traffic control program in the other towns which totals 50 hours a week and said it would be a way to start to build up a Valley-wide police presence.

LESS THAN FIVE MINUTES


One voter pointed out that Fayston residents spent more time discussing and voting on this $8000 article than it took them to pass their $846,000 municipal budget which was done in less than five minutes.

Voters began by electing Jones moderator again and re-elected Virginia Vasseur as town clerk. Patti Lewis was re-elected treasurer and Tony Egan was re-elected lister. Select board member Bob Vasseur was re-elected to a three-year term on that board and received thunderous applause for his 48 years of service on that board. David Cain was re-elected first constable for a year and Allen Tinker was re-elected second constable. Virginia Vasseur was re-elected as delinquent tax collector and Debra Jones was re-elected as trustee of public money. Moderator Jones was re-elected as grand juror and David Olenick was re-elected town agent for a year.

SOME PERSUASION

Arthur Williams was applauded for his service on the cemetery commission and Tom Bisbee, after some persuasion, was elected to that seat on the commission.

Voters heard from Shayne Jaquith and Ky Koitzch on a proposal to create a Fayston Natural Resources Commission, a measure which was approved by voters.

Voters convened after lunch to hold the school meeting, passing the school budget of $1,493,462 as well as re-electing Nicole Belknap as treasurer, Russell Beikle as school director, Susan MacLean-Daley as school director and Jean Wry as school director. 

 

Moretown PreTown Meeting


By Erin Post

Moretown residents weighed in on everything from a proposed conservation easement on town land to the merits of a full-time assistant town clerk at pre-town meeting March 5.

Prior to taking questions in the packed gymnasium at Moretown Elementary School, select board members and school officials briefed town residents on their proposed budgets and on other articles up for vote by Australian ballot at Town Meeting.

School board chair Deborah Hunter said the proposed $2.09 million school budget represents a 4.2 percent spending increase, the smallest of any Valley towns.

For the $853,688 town budget, the $109,260 spending increase can be attributed in part to road repairs and maintenance, said select board co-chair John Hoogenboom.

As a result of the spending jump, he said the board decided to ask voters to allocate all 2007 revenue from Moretown Landfill Inc. (MLI), expected to total roughly $320,000, to offset the amount to be raised in taxes.

LANDFILL REVENUE STIRS DEBATE


Moretown resident Gene Kazlow questioned why the select board opted to put the allocation of MLI revenue to a vote by Australian ballot as opposed to a floor vote on the article as in previous years.

Now, town residents have no recourse but to vote it up or down, Kazlow said, advocating for floor votes in the future.
"Leave that up to the town," he said, adding that he believed the long-term benefits of adding to the reserve fund annually outweigh any shorter-term considerations.

Some residents questioned whether they could vote no on the article, then petition for a special meeting to allocate MLI revenue in a way they see fit.

Select board members said the decision on the article hinged on the spending hike in this year's budget, which they said may be a burden for some taxpayers.
@SUBHEAD = RESIDENTS QUESTION DEERYARD MITIGATION

A representative from the Vermont Land Trust (VLT), the organization slated to hold a proposed conservation easement on town and school land, told the crowd that many traditional uses--including school activities, hiking, and logging--would be allowed on the roughly 80 acres included in the proposal.

"[The easement] is really broad and it's really quite permissive," said Liza Walker of the VLT.
The proposed agreement with MLI stands to conserve about 80 acres behind the school, as well as provide the town a location for a town garage.

Some residents suggested the agreement should be put to a town-wide vote.

A meeting between the school board, select board, and other officials on the agreement is tentatively scheduled for late March. Officials have said both the school board and the select board are required to sign off on the deal.

STAFFING AT TOWN CLERK'S OFFICE


Whether the town requires a full-time assistant town clerk prompted a debate about staffing levels.

Resident Duane Howes challenged the select board to explain why they have not supported the hiring of a full-time assistant in the office, citing the potential benefit to town residents.

"That town clerk's office needs to be open for the people in town," he said.

Select board member Stephanie Venema said the board held off on full-time staffing decisions until they felt they had all the necessary information. Two part-time employees are approved for the office now, she said but added that the town could return to the issue in the future.

"That was just our decision this year," she said.

A spike in home construction and subdivisions in town, combined with the added responsibility of handling property tax prebates and rebates, has increased the workload for the office, town clerk Susan Goodyear said.


Moretown Town Meeting


By Erin Post

Town Meeting in Moretown started off with voters calling for two paper ballots, one to elect a moderator and the other to approve the town report.

It ended with non-binding floor votes on presidential impeachment and terms of office for some elected positions.

Voters also considered a number of funding requests during the roughly three-hour meeting March 6, before adjourning for a lunch organized by the Moretown Historical Society.

Throughout the day, residents streamed into the town hall to cast ballots for school and town budgets and to elect town and school officials.

Voters returned two incumbents to the select board in a close race; they also approved both the town and school budgets and a number of special articles.

Polls closed at 7 p.m., Tuesday.

AUSTRALIAN BALLOT RESULTS


Select board incumbents Don Wexler and Paula Mastroberardino beat out challengers Ray Munn and Carl Wimble in a four-way race for two one-year terms. Mastroberardino received 224 votes, while Wexler garnered 199. Challenger Carl Wimble came in third with 188 votes; Ray Munn tallied 126. Rae Washburn, running unopposed for a three-year term of office, received 294 votes to earn a seat on the board.

Moretown School Board directors John Schmeltzer, Jay Pilliod and Amy Bolger, all running unopposed, were re-elected to their posts.

Voters approved the $854,688 town budget 306 to 91. The $2.09 million Moretown Elementary School budget also passed by a vote of 257 to 140.

A special article asking voters to set aside $55,000 for a school capital reserve fund passed 277 to 118.

The purchase of a loader gained approval 295 to 100; voters also okayed allocating $20,000 for the repair and upkeep of bridges.

An article to allocate all 2007 revenue the town receives from Moretown Landfill Inc. (MLI) to offset the amount to be raised in taxes passed 281 to 106, despite a heated debate on the proposal at pre-town meeting March 5.

The following residents were also elected to positions through Australian ballot:

Constable: Clarence Wood
Constable: David Van Deusen
Lister: David Kingsbury
Auditor: Joyce Cook
Trustee of Public Money: Susan Goodyear
Grand Juror: Brian Howes
Agent to Prosecute and Defend: Brian Howes
Cemetery Commissioner: William Cook
Library Trustee: Ellie Hilferty
Library Trustee: Tom Allen
Tax Collector: Craig Eilers

VOTERS REJECT TOWN REPORT/ELECT MODERATOR


At the start of Town Meeting, some residents said they were unhappy that the town report lacked a completed audit of the town books.

Moretown resident Wilma Maynard cited a paragraph in the town report informing voters that the "Statement of Receipts and Disbursements," and "General Fund Comparative Financial Statement" were not available at the time the report went to print, before introducing a motion to turn down the report. Other residents reiterated concerns that the audit was not finished in time for residents to look over two years in a row.

Town clerk Susan Goodyear said auditors planned to be in the office on Thursday and hoped to have a final audit completed by April. She cited reduced staffing at the clerk's office as she recovers from an illness as the cause of the time crunch this year.

"It has been a very difficult and very, very busy time," Goodyear said.

An amended article to approve the school report, but not the town report, went to a paper ballot and passed by a margin of just one vote, 36 to 35.

According to a publication from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns (VLCT), voting down the town report carries "no specific consequence." Instead, the organization characterizes the action as a "measure of [voter] satisfaction (or lack thereof) with the way the officers are conducting the town's business."

Longtime Town Meeting Moderator Jerry Maynard faced two challengers for the post this year: Steve Magill and Clark Amadon. Attendees called for a paper ballot vote, which Maynard won.

VOTERS AMEND SEVERAL FUNDING PROPOSALS


Through an amended article, voters upped the amount of town funding for the Sexual Assault Crisis Team of Washington County.

Resident Eric Howes proposed the amendment, suggesting $500 as an alternative total to the $100 proposed.

When it came to a vote to appropriate $945 for the Green Mountain Transit Agency, residents debated the merits of the public transportation service.

Representative Maxine Grad (D-Moretown) questioned whether the agency deserved the town's financial support, citing reports of infrequent stops in the village and spotty coverage in town.

"I'm hesitant to support this until I really see a commitment to Moretown," she said.

Voters approved an amended motion that makes funding contingent upon the select board following up with the organization to discuss the issue. Once the board is satisfied that Moretown is receiving an "appropriate level of service," the amended motion can go through.

CLOSE CALLS FOR TWO NON-BINDING FLOOR VOTES


A floor vote on a motion calling for the impeachment of President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney passed 30 to 23.

Because the article was not officially warned, officials emphasized that the results could not be binding on the town, leading to a discussion about the merits of taking up the proposal.

Some attendees called for the vote anyway, citing its value as an informal poll of town residents.

"It's a statement to everybody else," said Moretown resident Neal Mostov, after introducing the motion. He referenced the dozens of other Vermont towns considering the proposal, which states that the current administration "deliberately misled the nation and the threat from Iraq in order to justify war" as well as "condoned the torture of prisoners" and "approved illegal electronic surveillance" of U.S. citizens.

Another non-binding motion to rescind the three-year term of office for the town clerk and treasurer, to be replaced with a one-year term of office, resulted in a tie.

"I just think that the town people should have the opportunity to make the decision each year," said Brad Reagan after introducing the motion, citing a list of nearby towns that use one-year terms.

Although the 22 to 22 tie vote was not binding, it is to be taken on advisement by the town, officials said.


Waitsfield voters pass town and school budget, elect officers


By Lisa Loomis

Things were moving along so quickly and smoothly at Town Meeting this year that moderator Peter Joslin gave the crowd a brief recess to talk amongst themselves so that Town Meeting would not end its morning session before Town Meeting lunch was ready at the Waitsfield United Church.

Joslin brought the voters back to order to continue working through the agenda items and quickly found the assembly hip-deep in a discussion over generators, emergency management services, discussions over what buildings to wire to the generator and whether the select board exceeded the  spending decision made on the generator at Town Meeting last year. When all was said and done voters ducked out into the cold to head for lunch at 12:15 p.m.

Town Meeting got underway with the re-election of Joslin as moderator and moved quickly through the first few articles. As the town was discussing how and when to collect real estate taxes, resident Jim Leyton asked the select board if it would consider collecting taxes in three or four installments rather than in two installations because taxes are relatively high and it is hard for taxpayers to come up with such large sums of money.

RESERVE FUNDS


Town resident Matt Howes, in the first of several comments, asked for clarification on how the reserve funds work. This year the town has $85,000 allocated for various reserve funds, including $30,000 for a new road truck, $15,000 for road department heavy equipment, and $15,000 for a fire truck reserve along with other items. That article was approved. In a separate article, voters approved $7000 towards a fund to repair the roof of the Waitsifeld/Fayston Fire Station.

Town clerk Jennifer Peterson explained the reasoning behind Articles 9 and 10, which increased the term of her office as clerk and treasurer from one year to three. Town residents discussed the item briefly, with Mary Alice Bisbee acknowledging that continuity might be a good thing for the town and the office, but she questioned whether the two terms should be staggered, and/or one made two years versus three so that others who might want to run for that office could do so. That item passed.

Mark Grosby was given the opportunity to explain the reasoning behind Article 11, which called for increasing the conservation commission from five to nine members.

PEOPLE POWER


"Over the years, the amount of work our volunteer board does has increased from reviewing properties to mapping trails on properties we steward and we don't have enough people power to do the tasks we've been assigned," he said.

That motion passed.

During discussion of the town's budget for the coming year, Hugh Campbell asked for clarification on the percentage increase and Freddie Mahlmann asked whether a line item in this year's budget for $44,000 for a staff person for the municipal sewage and water project would be finite, ongoing, or "until the end of time."

Select board chair Elwin Neill Jr. explained first that this year's budget increase is very small and will bring the municipal tax rate from 29 cents to 29.5 cents, or maybe 30 cents per $100 of assessed value. He told Mahlmann that the municipal project manager position will oversee the water and sewage project through completion and be done.

GENERATOR


Still under the town budget article, voters became enmeshed in a lengthy discussion of how the town should proceed with funds to install an emergency generator at the Waitsfield Elementary School.  At Town Meeting last year, voters approved up to $35,000 for a generator to be installed at the school for emergency shelter or other mass casualty situations. Local emergency management coordinator Fred Messer helped the town secure a grant to fund the purchase of the generator, and the town select board wants to proceed with installation of the generator and wiring it to the school, the General Wait House, the Mad River Valley Health Center and the Waitsfield/Fayston Fire Department. 

There were questions about whether it is appropriate to wire the generator into the health center at the north end of town while leaving the doctor's office at the south end of town unconnected. Voters asked whether the select board exceeded last year's mandate by deciding to wire up the four buildings in close proximity to the generator. Moderator Peter Joslin pointed out several times that the issue before voters was this year's budget but continued to recognize residents who rose to speak. Several speakers, including Huguette Abbott, spoke in favor of the select board's plan, noting that it makes better sense to prepare for a disaster than be caught unaware.

EACH BUILDING


Matt Howes raised the issue of whether each building ought to have its own generator, noting that the MRVAS building has a generator as does the fire department.

Select board member Charlie Hosford defended the board's proposal noting that the expense of the wiring was mostly to wire the school and adding that wiring the other buildings to the generator is a way for the town to prepare for having electricity to critical buildings during a time of serious peril. Further discussion ensued until moderator Joslin called the budget question. Before a vote was taken, Mark Grosby, a former member of the select board, queried the board about the increasing legal budget of the town. Voters did approve the $1,309,032.

He noted that in 2005, the legal budget was $25,000 and the town spent $54,000. In 2006, the legal budget was $40,000 and the town spent $82,000. This year's budget is $53,500, "and I hope and pray it doesn't come in at $107,000," Grosby said.

He noted that with legal costs like these the town might be well served by hiring its own counsel rather than using paid services of other legal firms.

SCHOOL BUDGET


In the afternoon town voters passed the school budget of $1,937,503. In balloting voters re-elected Charlie Hosford to the select board and Roy Hadden to the select board. Jennifer Peterson was re-elected town clerk and treasurer, Sandy Tarburton was elected school director and, in the only contested race, Troy Kingsbury beat Valerie Snapp for a seat on the school board. He received 196 votes to her 77 votes. Jack Simko was re-elected as lister and Leo Laferriere was re-elected auditory. Art Conway was re-elected as a library trustee and Joanne Duhl was re-elected to the Harwood School Board.

Warren holds long and lively Town Meeting


By Phil King and Al Benjamin

Police coverage in Warren, the school budget and the call for impeaching President Bush and Vice President
Cheney were the highlights of the 2007 Warren Town Meeting.

The call for impeachment came on the next to last item on the Town Meeting agenda and was passed on a voice vote with no debate after a call for no discussion was made from the floor "since no amount of discussion will change any minds." The voice vote in favor was loud and clear. The full resolution reads: "Whereas George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney have:

• Deliberately misled the nation and the threat from Iraq in order to justify a war;

• Condoned the torture of prisoners in violation of the Geneva Convention and U.S. law;

• Approved illegal electronic surveillance of American citizens without a warrant; and

"Whereas these actions have undermined our Constitutional system of government, damaged the reputation of America and threatened our national security.

"Therefore, the voters of the town of Warren call upon the U.S. House of Representatives to investigate these charges and to initiate the process of impeachment for George W. Bush and Richard B. Cheney. This resolution shall be signed by the Town Clerk and forwarded to both the Speaker and the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives and Representative John Conyers of the House Judiciary Committee.

The establishment of a Conservation Commission to replace the current Conservation Committee proved to be a highly contentious proposition and, after a voice vote followed by a show of hands and finally a paper ballot, the item was defeated by a vote of 86 to 78.

A proposal to have the town purchase a Voting Tabulation machine was voted down by the assembled town voters.

CONSERVATION FUNDING

 

Attempts to reduce the budget were largely unsuccessful, an exception being a motion to deny a $25,000 increase to the budget for the Conservation Commission. Voters debated until after the noon hour on a question of whether the town should allocate the additional funds for the conservation fund. It was a lively debate with the board ultimately recommending calling the question because of all the side conversations that were going on. A voice vote was not conclusive and a hand count ensued, with 71 opposed to the increase and 70 in favor. Amidst grumbling, a paper ballot was called for and tabulated during lunch, coming in at 84 no votes and 72 yes votes.

Meanwhile, a three percent raise for Warren administrator Cindy Jones was defended and retained when select board member Barry Simpson defended her handling of a tough job, including a wastewater project, without an assistant.

Moving the Warren Public Library from its current location in the Municipal Building to the Town Hall was debated for about an hour before it was approved by the voters.

An attempt to reduce the Music and Arts budget from $2500 to $1500 for the Warren Arts and Music Committee failed. A motion was made from the floor to increase that budget by a $1,000. But the chair of the committee, Virginia Roth, refused the increase and the matter was settled.

POLICE COVERAGE


Complaints about police coverage in Warren were vocal and questioned the proper expenditure of time by the sheriff's deputies and the state police on checking speeders but not exercising the same amount of interest in preventing home invasions and robberies of various places of business. The select board indicated that a meeting will be held with Washington County Sheriff Hill to discuss all aspects of police coverage in Warren. The public will be invited to participate in the open public meeting. On a voice vote, voters overwhelmingly turned back an attempt to decrease the hours of the sheriff's patrol program.

In other actions, the voters approved a request by Rebecca Peatman to increase the special appropriation for Central Vermont Home Health and Hospice from $2,000 to $4,000.

The town budget of $2,139,750 was passed by a voice vote.

After the traditional break for lunch, the meeting resumed shortly after 1 p.m. and continued until approximately 2:50 p.m. to allow the annual School District meeting to begin. Earlier the assemblage voted to begin next year's meeting at 9 a.m.

SCHOOL BUDGET APPROVED


In a very short meeting, the Warren Town voters attending the Warren Town School District meeting approved the school budget for 2007. The budget, which totals $1,773,155, was quickly approved on voice vote.

A slide show explaining the educational highlights preceeded the vote. The budget is for the Warren Elementary School. It was pointed out that Warren's elementary school increased 7.1 percent primarily because of changes in special education costs. Warren's per pupil cost of $10,950 is the lowest of four Valley towns-Waitsfield, Fayston, and Moretown will have higher per pupil costs for 2007.  
 
Chris Stecher contributed to this report.

TWO NEW SELECT BOARD MEMBERS


The Australian ballot results for the various town officers show that two new members will be joining the Warren Select Board. Erin Russell Story was elected to a three-year term, while Kirstin Reilly was elected to that board for a two-year term.

In other races Priscilla Robinson was re-elected to a new three-year term as lister as she defeated Steve Butcher with 210 votes to his 98.

Most of the other positions on the ballot were unopposed except where indicated. Reta Goss was re-elected to a one-year term as Town Clerk with 302 votes and also as Delinquent Tax Collector with 298 votes. Elaine Fuller was re-elected as Trustee of Public Money with 300 votes and also as School Treasurer with 292 votes. She was also elected as Town Treasurer with 292 votes.

John (Jack) W. Lonsdale Jr. received 25 write-in votes for another term as Second Constable. Wayne Kathan was re-elected Town Agent with 292 votes. Ken Greenslit was elected for the first time to serve on the Cemetery Commission. He received 268 votes. Michele Eid was re-elected for a new five-year term on the Cemetery Commission. She received 291 votes.

For the School Board directors, Adam Greshin was elected to a three-year term with 260 votes as Michael Ketchel was elected to a two-year term with 272 votes. Sasha Woolson received 273 votes for the one-year term on the school board. Mac Rood was re-elected as School Moderator with 288 votes.

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