Town-by-town reports of this year’s Town Meeting follow with election of officers, budgets and highlights of the day.
Waitsfield voters came to Town Meeting loaded for bear this week. The stands were packed, the small, low, cafeteria tables where non-voters must sit were full and people lined the back of the gymnasium at the Waitsfield Elementary School.
Select board chair Kate Williams opened the meeting by thanking residents, voters and spectators who came to speak and listen this year.
“We’re all in this together and I thank you for asking the hard questions,” Williams said.
Voters elected Brian Shupe as the new moderator and Shupe explained that he intended to follows Robert’s Rule of Order and explained the rules of engagement for the day.
Voters and spectators this year were keenly interested in the opportunity to discuss Waitsfield’s municipal water project and the town’s efforts to secure the land where its water supply well is drilled on Reed Road. The town is negotiating with two landowners (Virginia Houston and the Richards/Damon family) to purchase less than two acres of land along that road, while concurrently pursuing condemnation of that land as well.
Prior to Town Meeting, the select board received a petition calling for shifting a portion of the water project cost from system users to all taxpayers and creating a per gallon water system usage fee which would go to the two property owners in lieu of the town having to buy or condemn the land. Public opinion ran high on the topic of the water project, purchase or condemnation and the petition.
Shupe invited public comment on the water project under Article 3 “to hear and act upon the reports of the town officers,” explaining that it was possible that the petition article would not allow for adequate discussion. What followed was almost two hours of public give and take and questions and answers from the select board about the project.
Darryl Forrest who heads up the town’s water task force implementation committee explained the town’s work to date and also explained a new facet of the project – the town is considering a quarterly usage maximum of 10,000 gallons per equivalent residential unit (ERU is approximately the amount of water that a three bedroom house will use). After 10,000 gallons, users would pay a small fee.
The select board was asked for the status of the negotiations with the two landowners and Williams explained that the town was working diligently with the landowners, actively pursuing the settlement option.
The board was asked about the consequences of condemnation and what might happen if a judge were to rule against the town. Select board member Sal Spinosa explained that there are two elements of condemnation, first a finding of public necessity and then the establishment of the fee to be paid to the property owner.
Property owner Gene Scarpato blasted the board for drilling its well on the Reed Road and asked whose property might be next. Spinosa explained that the town, using the best information it had at the time, felt that Reed Road was a town road and drilled a well there. (Last fall a judge ruled that the town had not presented adequate information to show that the road was a town road and advised the town to purchase or condemn that land.)
“It looked like a road. We thought it was a road. We were told it was a road. We felt pretty confident of that, that it was a town road. We still feel it is a road,” Spinosa said.
Resident Michael Sharkey asked why the town was not appealing that decision and was told that the town had been advised not to appeal it.
Chris Pierson received applause from the crowd when he suggested that it was a moral question of whether the town could or should have moved forward with drilling the well, knowing that its well would overlap with the wellhead protection area of Virginia Houston, without coming to some agreement with the landowner first, given her stated desire to sell the water.
The select board responded that the town has indeed put money on the table for both Houston and Richards. The town at one point had offered $500,000 to the Damon/Richards family.
Corinthia Richards, speaking on behalf of the family, said that the family had agreed to the $500,000 but then never received a purchase and sales agreement from the town. Select board member Paul Hartshorn chimed in to clarify that after the two parties had reached the $500,000 number, the Richards/Damon family kept adding things to the deal, property tax abatements and other conditions that significantly increased the town’s cost.
David Dion, a resident and also a Realtor/developer who represented Virginia Houston off and on throughout the past decade or so, asked why the town was loath to acknowledge that “Virginia Houston discovered that water?”
Fred Viens told the board that, as a former road commissioner for the town of Waitsfield, he had no recollection of Reed Road ever being a town road. He said he found Virginia Houston’s recounting of events at a January 31 condemnation hearing hard to believe – noting that he’d read it in The Valley Reporter, drawing another round of applause and laughter from the crowd.
By unanimous vote, voters moved on to other articles on the annual meeting warning. When voters came to Article 8, the petition to shift water project costs, a motion was received to bring the article to the floor for discussion and, at the same time, a motion to pass over the article was received.
Five hundred sixty-nine of the 1,384 registered voters in the town of Moretown cast ballots on Town Meeting Day, March 1; residents approved a $1,061,143 municipal budget and a school budget of $2,033,715.
Voters also approved Article 12 that authorizes the select board to spend a sum not to exceed $178,820 (plus interest) for the purchase of a new 14-cubic-yard dump truck for the town’s highway department.
Residents present at Monday’s informational meeting questioned town officials’ decision to hire an additional road crew member and further expressed frustration about winter road maintenance this year.
Moretown resident Gene Kaslow said, “Somebody should be doing the roads on a Saturday night when the young people might be out.”
The highway department saw a $6,500 increase in the operating budget this year; there is already $60,000 in this year’s budget set aside for one-third of the cost of the new dump truck. The town plans to pay off the truck over the next three years.
In a contested race for an open one-year seat on the Moretown Select Board, Clark Amadon was elected over Thomas Martin, 416 votes to 396.
Incumbent Town Clerk Cherilyn Lamson won both of the contested races for town clerk and for town treasurer. Lamson was elected town clerk for a three year-term by a vote of 343 to 271 over incumbent Town Treasurer Amy Deutl.
In the race for town treasurer, Lamson was elected to a three-year term by a vote of 290 to 271.
On the Moretown School Board of Directors, Diana Costello was elected to a one-year term over school board member Tom Badowski by a vote of 444 to 385.
Voters also approved Article 15 which asked them to authorize the town to set aside a sum of $10,000 for the repair and upkeep of the bridges and culverts. Article 18 was also approved, which stipulated that the revenues from the Moretown Landfill (MLI) be divided so that 52 percent is deposited into the general operating fund to lower the 2011 tax rate and 40 percent be deposited into the savings reserve fund.
On Monday, Badowski told Moretown voters that as it stands MLI will reach capacity in December 2012; a lateral expansion project that is currently in the permitting process could extend the life of the landfill to an additional 16 years, he said.
When asked about the likelihood of getting the project fully permitted, Badowski said, “There are two commercial facilities in Vermont, and we’re one of them; I’d say there is a 50/50 chance at this point.”
School board chair Kaj Samsom said that this year’s approved budget of $2,033,715 is down 4.7 percent from the budget that was approved last year and down 7 percent since 2009. The budget maintains all programs.
Duxbury voters elected two new members to the select board; Mike Marshall was elected to a three-year term with 63 votes, Ames Robb was elected to a one-year term with 63 votes and JoAnn Berno was reelected with 52 votes.
Residents approved a 2011 municipal budget of $570,485 plus $87,000 for the capital reserve fund and $50,750 to be added to the sand and gravel escrow for a total budget of $708,235.
Fayston Town Clerk Virginia Vasseur was honored at Town Meeting this year for her 23 years of service to the town (plus her several years as assistant town clerk and many years as tax collector). This year’s town report was dedicated to Vasseur.
Fayston voters moved through this year’s Town Meeting agenda quickly with no budgetary challenges and not even one no vote heard as voters worked their way through the items.
Voters heard and approved a budget that was lower than last year’s, elected officials and re-elected officials, including select board member Ed Reed, Tax Collector Patty Lewis, Lister Gussie Graves and others.
Voters approved spending $13,395 in the form of a donation to the Joslin Library in Waitsfield (both communities use the library).
Voters in the town of Fayston approved a $908,539 municipal budget and a school budget of $1,640,872 for the 2011-2012 school year.
A total of 265 of the 1,470 registered voters in the town of Warren cast ballots on Town Meeting Day, Tuesday; they approved a municipal budget of $2,536,199 and a school budget of $2,137,388.
In a contested race for a five-year term on the town’s cemetery commission, John Goss was elected over Marilyn Miller, 165 votes to 70; Rudy Elliott was also elected to two years of a five-year term.
Select board members Kirsten Reilly and Anson Montgomery were both re-elected to a three- and two-year term, respectively.
The project consists of paving an eight-tenths of a mile section of road starting in the vicinity of Gold Hill Road and ending near Wheeler Brook.
Select board member Bob Ackland said that approving the project is necessary to meet the standards in order to receive state funding, especially where erosion control is concerned.
Warren resident Butch Hartshorn asked town officials to explain why gravel used for last summer’s culvert replacement project was taken from a piece of land not owned by the town. Select board chair Andy Cunningham said it was the result of a stipulation in the town’s contract with G.W. Tatro.
Sugarbush Resort owner Win Smith asked select board members how the tax rate will be affected should the voters approve the budget and all of the article expenditures. Cunningham said he was unsure of the figure, but if Article 7 was voted down, the money would have to be taken from other places to at least complete some patch paving on the Access Road.
Warren residents also voted in favor of Article 3, an increase in the appraised value in the property tax exemption available for veterans from $10,000 to $40,000. In addition, Article 4 passed, which creates a new capital reserve fund for the warren cemetery with $7,000 allocated for 2011.
In addition, Warren voters approved Article 6, to allocate $10,000 to the conservation reserve fund for 2011.