03/05/2009

By Lisa Loomis

Town Meetings this year were lively and well attended. In many towns, more voters stayed longer than usual to weigh in on school meeting proposals and finish town business. Discussions were heated in some instances and contentious in others. Votes were by voice, by stand up/sit down and by pieces of paper distributed and collected.

Collectively, voters in the Washington West Supervisory Union and the Union 45 school district approved Harwood Union's $12,276,171 budget by a vote of 1,239 yes to 923 no.

In Warren, residents elected Matt Groom to the select board and re-elected Kirstin Reilly. Voters also discussed at length a proposal to add $20,000 to the town's conservation fund. By paper ballot, that provision failed 85 to 65. Of the 1,467 voters registered in Warren, 280 votes were cast.

In Waitsfield, voters elected Paul Hartshorn and Sal Spinosa to the select board and after much discussion approved an article calling for up to $100,000 to repair/replace the dam at the north end of the town pond in Irasville. Voters elected Rob Williams and Elizabeth Cadwell to the school board.

Fayston voters rejected a proposal to vote school budgets by Australian ballot and narrowly approved an article calling for the town to spend up to $8,000 for law enforcement services.

Fayston and Waitsfield voters approved an article exempting solar panels and other alternative energy-generating systems from real and property tax. Warren voters passed over that item.

Rob Roberts was elected to the select board in Moretown and Stephanie Venema was re-elected to that board. First Constable Raymond Munn was re-elected for a one-year term, earning 238 votes over challenger Charles Abare Jr.'s 129 votes.

In Duxbury residents also passed an article authorizing the town to expend $190,000 on a new grader. Duxbury Select Board members Kym Andrews, Richard Charland and Todd Liberty were all re-elected from the floor.

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INDIVIDUAL TOWN ROUNDUPS

Duxbury | Fayston | Moretown | Waitsfield | Warren

Duxbury Town Meeting voters approve new grader

Voters in Duxbury approved a total town budget of $616,055 and passed a school budget totaling $9,302,621. Of the $616,055, $87,000 will be set aside for capital reserves, and $14,500 will be set aside for tax stabilization.

Of the 1,003 registered voters, 199 voted at Town Meeting on March 3 at the Crossett Brook Elementary School.

Duxbury residents also passed an article authorizing the town to expend $190,000 on a new grader. Duxbury Select Board members Kym Andrews, Richard Charland and Todd Liberty were all re-elected from the floor.

Fayston voters narrowly approve law enforcement program, reject Australian ballot for school budget

By Lisa Loomis

After a lengthy and emotional discussion fraught with concerns about money, Fayston voters approved an article calling for the town to contract for law enforcement services with the Washington County Sheriff's Office.

The article, Article 19, was finally passed by paper ballot, 59-54. It calls for the town to join the other Valley towns in contracting for law enforcement from the Washington County Sheriff's Department. Article 19 called for spending a sum not to exceed $8,000.

ALTERNATIVE ENERGY

Article 20, calling for voters to exempt alternate energy sources from real and property taxation, provoked another lengthy and heated debate. Town Lister Gussie Graves argued against the proposal, stating that the state enabling legislation is too loose.

Peter Forbes, owner of the Knoll Farm and Center for Whole Communities, countered her, emphasizing that the article will encourage homeowners to install solar and other alternative energy systems at their homes without worrying about that increasing their property taxes. This article passed by an estimated 75 percent of voters in a voice vote.

AUSTRALIAN BALLOT

A proposal to have the school budget voted by Australian ballot kept many people at the meeting longer than usual. Article 10 in the school agenda would have had the school budget voted by Australian ballot, and Article 11 would have had that same method used should the school's per pupil spending exceed the state-mandated ceiling requiring a second vote.

These articles generated passionate discussion and many spoke about the vital importance of taxpayers meeting to discuss town and school business in ways that cannot be done in voting booths or at pre-Town Meetings.

HOUSE DIVISION

Voting on those two articles was by house division with people standing to indicate their position. Both articles were defeated by majority count.

During the school meeting, voters also defeated an amendment to add $10,000 to the budget for a part-time custodian. The custodial position was removed from the 2010 budget as well as two support staff positions.

Voters also spent time discussing what to do with $13,631, a fund balance from last year, and ultimately transferred it to the capital fund.

MODERATED

A total of 149 registered voters cast ballots for the Harwood budget, although throughout the day attendance ranged between 100 and 113. Town voters approved a town budget of $937,676 and a school budget of $1,659,595.

David Jones moderated the town and school meetings. Susan Daley and Russell Beilke were re-elected as school directors, and Nicole Belknap was re-elected treasurer for the school district.

Virginia Vasseur was re-elected as town clerk and tax collector, Patti Lewis was re-elected as treasurer, Jared Cadwell was re-elected to the select board, Fred Spencer was re-elected as a lister and Allen Tinker was re-elected second constable. Ken Amann was elected to the Cemetery Commission, Ron Graves Jr. was re-elected as trustee of public money, David Jones was re-elected grand juror and David Olenick was re-elected town agent.

Ann Day contributed to this report.

Roberts elected in Moretown, Venema re-elected to Select Board

By Kara Herlihy

Moretown residents elected Rob Roberts to a one-year term on the Select Board. Roberts earned 266 votes, candidate David Van Deusen earned 244 votes, and William Houghton received 147 votes.

Moretown Select Board member Stephanie Venema was re-elected to a three-year term with 308 votes. First Constable Raymond Munn was re-elected for a one-year term, earning 238 votes over Charles Abare Jr.'s 129 votes.

ONE-YEAR TERM

Town Treasurer Amy Deutl was re-elected to another one-year term with 360 votes, and Craig Eilers was re-elected as the town's delinquent tax collector for another one-year term.

Moretown residents are feeling the financial pinch this March 3, as illustrated by the Town Meeting defeat of Article 14, which would have allocated an additional $45,000 towards the completion of the new town garage.

Voters approved a total town budget of $955,128 and a school budget of $2,135,371 by Australian ballot. Moretown residents gathered at a pre-Town Meeting information session Monday evening, March 2, to discuss, among other things, the town's financial situation.

LEGAL EXPENSES

The town budget came in at an 8 percent increase from the previous year; the budget overage, according to former select board member Paula Mastroberardino, is mostly due to flood expenses from last summer and legal expenses incurred during the town's appeal of the Rivers' quarry project.

Select board members said they anticipate between $20,000 and $30,000 worth of legal expenses through the end of the Rivers' appeal.

Residents discussed the cost overage associated with Moretown's new town garage; at Town Meeting last year, voters authorized an amount not to exceed $900,000 to be spent on the building. The $900,000 included the $150,000 designated for the land purchased from Holly Ward.

EIGHT PERCENT INTEREST

Voters expressed their dissatisfaction with the way the town handled the land purchase, which was financed for a three-year period at a reported 8 percent interest rate.

Select board member Rae Washburn said the project ran over budget for several reasons; among them, he said, was an additional $25,000 for site work that was not expected and $28,000 for a replacement septic system for an abutting landowner.

When questioned about the 8 percent interest rate, Washburn said he would take full responsibility for the oversight that he said "slipped by the town and the town's attorneys."

SEPTIC SYSTEM

When asked why the town was paying for the replacement of the abutting landowner's septic system, Washburn said that the town had done work at the previous garage that damaged the neighbor's septic system, and the town felt it had to right the situation.

The additional monies would have gone towards addressing the drainage issue in the new garage and help with the costs associated with the septic project. Washburn said that $663,000 goes to E.F. Wall, and $150,000 was allocated for the land purchase.

Moretown School Board Chair John Smeltzer fielded questions from voters over the $2,135,371 budget, which comes in at a 3.8 percent increase from last year ($77,700). The school board report indicates that approximately 40 percent of the budget increase is due to the bond interest related to the school's roof repairs.

In November, voters authorized the board to purchase bonds to fund roof improvements and repairs not to exceed $700,000. Smeltzer said the school board hopes to have bids for the project received by early April and awarded by the end of April. He added that the school's half of the Moretown Landfill deeryard mitigation money (approximately $45,000) will go towards capital improvements and facilities maintenance fund.

The school budget also includes a reduction in three and a quarter para-educator staff positions.

Moretown voters also passed Article 12, which authorized the town to expend $190,000 for repairs and renovations of the Town Hall. The kitchen in the basement of the Town Hall has been completely renovated, but electrical system issues prevented the town from holding the annual meeting in the space.

Article 17 was passed, which allowed the revenues received in 2009 from the Moretown Landfill tipping fees to be divided so that 25 percent is deposited into the Savings Reserve Fund, 25 percent is deposited into the Capital Reserve Fund, and 50 percent is used to lower the 2009 tax rate.

Waitsfield voters reduce capital reserve, approve town pond repair

By Lisa Loomis

Waitsfield's Town Meeting started off with a bang when former Select Board member and chair Elwin Neill Jr. took current Select Board chair Charlie Hosford to task for his role in releasing water from the town pond last spring.

Neill demanded to know why the town was responsible for paying costs associated with remediating an illegal release into a state wetland. The release was called by Hosford last spring after days of rain when water levels in the pond and a beaver dam downstream of it were extremely high and when a sinkhole developed in the earthen dam at the north end of the pond.

RIPRAP AND MULCH

That action, which Hosford explained he took in hopes of preventing a natural disaster, resulted in the town being sanctioned (but not fined) by the state and required to remediate the release of water and silt with riprap and mulch.

"I should have apprised the other members of the board at that time, but I took action because I thought there was a crisis," Hosford said.

Town Administrator Valerie Capels explained that the town has now adopted a policy where two other members of the board will be consulted in similar instances.

LOSE GOOD PEOPLE

"You don't want to pay for something that went wrong, but when someone acts in good faith in the best interests of the town and gets this, we're going to lose good people to serve," said town resident Jeff Knight, to applause from the crowd.

"Charlie, you broke your oath of office and you broke the law to act on your own. You broke state law. I'll stand here publicly, if I have to stand by myself, and call for your resignation. All that expense happened because you acted to dig in the wetland. There's no excuse, Charlie," Neill continued.

BYGONES BE BYGONES

"I think we need to let bygones be bygones and move on to the bigger question of whether we're going to repair the pond or leave it as is. Let's let bygones be bygones," said resident Mary Alice Bisbee.

Select board member Paul Hartshorn pointed out to voters that the town's cemetery funds had dropped by half due to the stock market and said there may come a time when the cemetery commissioners had to ask the town for financial support to maintain the cemeteries.

Voters spent a fair amount of time discussing the capital reserve fund and the items that made up the $97,000 budget request for that fund. Neill moved to amend the proposed amounts for the fund to the effect that the $20,000 proposed for the covered bridge reserve would stay the same, the road department truck reserve would be cut from $30,000 to $15,000; the road department heavy equipment reserve would be cut from $15,000 to $7,500, the fire department truck reserve would be cut from $15,000 to $7,500, the fire department roof repair fund would be kept at $7,500, the street tree reserve fund would be cut from $5,000 to zero, the library reserve fund would be kept at $2,500, and the restroom, recreation and conservation fund would be cut from $2,500 to zero for this year.

NEW LOADER

Those cuts, he said, would take a little more than a penny off the tax rate. Voters asked to hear from the departments and people affected by the proposed cuts. Fire Chief Delbert Palmer said his department could get along without the fire truck reserve funds this year and Road Commissioner Charlie Goodman explained to voters how the town anticipates and budgets for new equipment.

"The biggest thing for us is the anticipation of a new loader, especially as we go into the town's new gravel pit," Goodman said.

Michael Hock asked to hear from the select board on the proposed cuts and board member Roy Hadden explained that the capital reserve funds could be moved out a year.

"The farther we push out the pain, the more painful it gets," said Jon Jamieson.

LOANS VS. TAXES

Board members and Goodman discussed a combination of borrowing funds at 2.5 percent and using funds in the heavy equipment reserve fund to purchase the new loader on schedule, reasoning that it was less impact on voters to finance the purchase for five years than create the money from taxing. Liz Laferriere made a motion to amend Neill's amendment to restore the road department funding which passed 55 to 52 after further discussion. Neill's amended amendment passed as well with the net result that $67,000 was added to the capital reserve budget.

After lunch, there was an update from state representative Adam Greshin, and the school meeting ensued. Robin Morris proposed an amendment to reduce the school's reserve fund by $33,220 until Waitsfield's CLA (common level of appraisal) improves. That article did not pass. The school budget of $2,163,294 passed and the Town Meeting resumed. Voters approved a property tax exemption of $40,000 of appraised value for eligible veterans and approved an article exempting alternative energy sources from real and personal property taxation.

TOWN POND REPAIR

Voters moved on to Article 10, asking for up to $100,000 to repair the dam at the town pond and do limited dredging. The discussion was lively, with some board members expressing the desire to return the pond to a swamp, along with some voters. Others argued that it was an important asset to the town, an important part of the Mad River Path project and an important part of the town's storm water management system.

Board members told the public that the sentiment at a June public hearing to discuss the fate of the pond had been 100 percent in support of repairing the dam and restoring the pond, so the board proceeded with engineering the project and put it out to bid. Those bids were opened on March 2 and range from $65,000 to $98,000 excluding dredging.

While the dam has been stabilized by lowering water levels and reducing pressure on the earthen berm, the outlet pipe that is compromised and which caused the sinkhole last spring will continue to degrade, requiring some work.

WORTH IT

"If I understand you, it will cost $30,000 to get rid of the pond, the pipe and the dam, and it could cost $65,000 to fix it. I say, let's just fix it. It's worth that much money. I don't know why we're even having this discussion," said Michael Sharkey to applause.

Ted Tremper questioned the amount of dredging that the town is proposing and Mike Kingsbury concurred, pointing out that repairing the dam without dredging the pond was a waste of money.

Jim Boylan proposed an amendment to reduce the amount to be spent on the pond from $100,000 to $80,000. That amendment failed. Elwin Neill proposed reducing the amount to be spent to "no more than $1." Moderator Peter Joslin ruled that amendment out of order.

When the question was called, Article 10 passed, 62-26.

TOWN BUDGET

When it came time to vote the town budget, Robin Morris asked the town to level fund to keep the tax rate the same as last year.

"I'd suggest that everyone make their amendments and I'd like to bring up another part of the budget that is just out in space," said Elwin Neill. The board accepted motions to adjust the budget based on the capital reserve fund and then Neill admonished the board for a special article of $20,000.

"You just aren't getting it. You can't put that $20,000 there because the budget had no line item for it," Neill said. Board members said it was to reflect the first year's cost of paying back the town pond repair ($100,000 over five years). After further discussion and moving of items from one line to another, a budget of $1,548,346 was passed. Robin Morris made a motion to reduce the budget by $20,000, which passed.

A total of 511 voters cast ballots in Waitsfield, representing 36.1 percent of registered voters. In a three-way race for a two-year seat on the select board, Sal Spinosa won with 252 votes to challengers Russ Bennett and Darryl Forrest's 103 and 136 votes, respectively. There were two contested races for school director. Rob Williams beat Scott Kingsbury in a race for a three-year seat, 258-236. Elizabeth Cadwell beat Kari Dolan in a race for a two-year seat, 255-199.

Warren voters disagree on conservation funds, reject $20,000 article

By Kara Herlihy

The dark cloud of a struggling economy settled over Town Meeting Day across The Valley on March 3; voters in the town of Warren approved a $2,001,262 budget and a school budget totaling $1,889,811, but voted down an article to allocate $20,000 to the Conservation Commission's reserve fund.

Warren Conservation Commission Chair Margo Wade spoke out in support of the $20,000 allocation that voters decided should be requested separately at Town Meeting last year.

SEPARATE ARTICLE

As a result, the request was made as a separate article and was not included in the regular budget. In a paper vote, 85 Warren residents voted against the allocation, while 65 voted in favor of the funding.

Several residents took the opportunity to discuss the article, including Butch Hartshorn, who said that, "The town already owns a lot of land," and Robert Messner, who echoed many residents concerns over the expenditure in "these tough economic times."

The purpose of the reserve fund, according to the conservation commission charter, is for "the acquisition and perpetual protection of critical agriculture, forest, and open lands in the town."

Wade said the fund has been used mainly for easements for the protection of land, including the recently acquired Kingsbury Farm. Currently, the fund has approximately $95,000 in it.

"We can't create more acres," Wade added. Several residents questioned the town's decision to conserve the Kingsbury Farm, and whether the parcel is developable. Wade said that the meadowland is developable and that, "in matters of real estate transactions, oftentimes we have to move quickly."

Warren resident Win Smith spoke in support of the Conservation Commission and their various projects, and agreed that the $20,000 allocation was a steep expenditure "in these difficult economic times." Smith then made a personal contribution to the commission's reserve fund.

FUNDS TRANSFERRED

Warren voters also voted to allow the town to transfer $150,000 from the capital reappraisal fund to the highway department equipment capital fund to purchase a new town truck.

Warren Highway Department representative Chris Kathan said that towns typically replace town vehicles every eight years, while the current truck is 11 years old. When questioned about the possibility of used equipment, Kathan said due to the status of the economy, there is no market for used equipment. Kathan added that Warren Road Foreman Rae Weston was prevented from attending Town Meeting because he was working to repair the current town truck, presently broken down.

ALTERNATE ENERGY EXEMPTED

Voters in Warren also voted to pass over an article to exempt alternate, non-fossil energy sources from real and personal property taxation. Warren Board of Listers Chair Priscilla Robinson said while Warren has a few instances of alternative energy sources, there isn't a huge market for it "that we've seen yet."

Warren residents also approved an article to request that the Vermont Legislature recognize and support the full cleanup and decommissioning of Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant at the end of its 40-year design life in 2012.

280 VOTES CAST

Of the 1,467 voters registered in Warren, 280 votes were cast. The select board seat left vacant by Warren Department of Public Works Director Barry Simpson was filled by Matt Groom, who earned 231 votes and was elected to three-year term. Select board member Kirstin Reilly was also re-elected for a two-year term with 227 votes.

Ken Blair was elected to a three-year term on the board of listers with 257 votes. Town Clerk Reta Goss was re-elected to a one-year term as Warren's town clerk as well as tax collector. Elaine Fuller was also re-elected to a one-year term as the trustee of public money and town treasurer.

William Peatman Jr. was elected to a one-year term as second constable, Charles Snow was elected to a five-year term on the Cemetery Commission, Robert Rosen was elected to a three-year term as school director, and Michael Ketchel was elected to a two-year term as school director.

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