By Lisa Loomis
Charlie Hosford won re-election to a three-year seat on the Waitsfield Select Board over write-in challenger Elwin Neill Jr. by a vote of 306 to 170 at Town Meeting this year. Neill, a 20-plus year member of the board, began a write-in campaign on February 17.
Current select board chair Kate Williams ran unopposed for re-election to a two-year seat on the board, receiving 436 votes. A total of 512 voters cast Australian ballots at Town Meeting on March 2, representing 36.2 percent of the town's registered voters.
In response to an Australian ballot article requesting $10,000 to install an autostart switch on a town generator that is located at the Waitsfield Elementary School, voters approved the article 330 to 178.
FAREWELL TO PETER JOSLIN
Voters elected Scott Kingsbury to a three-year seat on the school board over Todd White by a vote of 312 to 157 and elected Helen Kellogg to a two-year seat on the board with 428 votes.
After 29 years of service as moderator, law agent, select board member and library trustee, moderator Peter Joslin bade voters farewell at the close of Town Meeting this year. He is moving away from Waitsfield.
A school budget of $2,115,826 was passed, and a town budget of $1,664,904 was passed.
Discussion was lively with voters raising questions and issues from the floor throughout the day. Elwin Neill queried the board about a budget surplus of approximately $100,000 this year. He asked if taxpayers had been overcharged and also questioned the select board's decision to pay for repairs to the Waitsfield town pond from general funds rather than by borrowing the money.
HIDDEN COSTS OF CONSERVATION
Neill also asked the board for detailed explanations of how the town could afford to create a $50,000 Budget Reserve Fund, add $7,500 to the $2,500 earmarked for conservation and still reduce the tax rate by 2.5 cents. Select board member Bill Parker fielded the financial questions, referring to the specific sections of the Town Report that included the details.
Early on in the meeting, town resident Marie Leotta asked fellow residents to consider the hidden costs of the town accepting land by gift or purchase. She cited the seven-acre Flemer field at the north end of Waitsfield Village, which the town received as a gift, arguing that it came with too many restrictions and prevented the town from holding events on it and would ultimately cost the town money.
From the floor, an amendment to remove the word "purchase" from Article 3 "Will the town authorize the select board to acquire by gift or purchase, land for a municipal forest to procure wood products, maintain wildlife habitat, protect water species, provide forest recreation and provide for conservation education purposes."
Conservation Commission Chair Leo Laferriere spoke up, noting that the specific language of Article 3 may be part of the state statute that enables towns to accept land, and Elwin Neill concurred.
ENHANCED THE TOWN
"We've had these same questions in the past and I believe the wording is part of the enabling statute and that we can't accept land without those words. In the past, the town has accepted anonymous gifts of land, and flexibility is needed in these cases. I believe trust should be given to the select board to make those decisions. In the past, Waitsfield has been able to accept some very nice properties at little expense to the taxpayer and they have enhanced the town," Neill said.
Town Administrator Valerie Capels listed several such properties, including the Lareau Swim Hole, the Wu Ledges, the Wait House, and several town forests.
"But those properties don't require maintenance. That field came with too many restrictions and will remove $4,000 per year from the tax rolls," Leotta argued, adding that the farmers' market could be held there were there not so many restrictions.
The amendment to remove the word "purchase" was voted down and conservation commission member Phil Huffman proposed increasing funding for the town's conservation fund from $2,500 to $10,000. That passed by a stand-up/sit-down vote of 123 in favor and 72 opposed.
It was the first of a series of stand-up/sit-down votes counted by Town Clerk Jennifer Peterson and town Road Foreman Charlie Goodman, both of whom are recovering from knee injuries/surgery.
VERMONT LAND TRUST
Town resident Stan Barosky asked why the select board responded to a request from the Vermont Land Trust for $10,000 towards conservation of the Hartshorn farm by offering $20,000 towards the project.
Select board member Sal Spinosa responded, "I had a hand in that. It was our way of solidifying our relationship with the Vermont Land Trust and it was a statement of support that was useful in getting the proposal approved by the VLT board."
Town officials explained the reasoning behind Article 9, which allows the select board to cease mailing town reports to residents except when requested as a cost-cutting measure. Board member Charlie Hosford spoke of collecting boxes of thrown away town reports at the post office and said there were hundreds of reports in the box.
STOP MAILING TOWN REPORTS
Town Administrator Capels said that the measure was considered as a way of saving money and said the board felt it should come before voters. The measure would save approximately $400 in postage and perhaps more in printing if fewer reports were printed.
"I think it's a bad idea. It puts another chink in the amour of Town Meeting. If you send it, chances are people are going to read it and are more likely to get involved," said resident Jon Jamieson.
Resident Jeff Knight opposed the article, noting that there was no guarantee that printing costs would go down and that the measure would reduce critical town outreach to voters.
The article was passed by a stand-up/sit-down vote of 65 to 59.
LOUD AND CLEAR
After Town Meeting lunch was served at the Waitsfield United Church of Christ, voters returned to hear state Representative Adam Greshin, I-Warren (representing Warren, Waitsfield and Fayston), report that he had heard them loud and clear on Vermont Yankee. Greshin also said he was aware of Valley voters' discontent with Act 60/68, Vermont's method of funding education and said that the state budget shortfall was the elephant in the living room at the State House this year.
Waitsfield Elementary School Principal Kaiya Korb addressed the meeting, explaining this year's proposed budget and the direction of the school for the coming year before voters moved on to discuss Article 11 (voted by Australian ballot) regarding installing an auto-switch on the town generator at the elementary school.
MAKE CHILDREN SAFER
Select board member Paul Hartshorn championed the amendment, stating that it would make schoolchildren safer, and board member Charlie Hosford argued against it, noting that the select board first pursued a generator to have a way to create an emergency shelter if needed. He said that school and town officials were able to start the generator easily.
"There are only three people who can start it and unlock the school doors. If we have an emergency, I hope we can find one of those three people. An emergency switch will turn the generator off and on automatically. I am amazed this is even up for debate," Charlie Goodman opined.
"I'd propose that we have the fire department and road crew and all members of the ambulance service trained in starting the generator," said Marie Leotta.
"I'm too busy for that," responded Waitsfield Fire Chief Delbert Palmer.
Elwin Neill moved that the assembly pass over the resolution calling for the state to reject a bid by Vermont Yankee for relicensing which failed by a stand-up/sit-down vote of 43 to 33.
In response to a motion by Marie Leotta to vote each one of two line item special appropriations in the budget, moderator Peter Joslin ruled that that was not allowable. Elwin Neill challenged the ruling of the moderator on that decision and the assembly voted against the challenge.
Voters approved creating a $50,000 budget stabilization reserve fund and approved a town budget of $1,674,904.