In contrast with Monday evening’s poor turnout at the annual school district meeting, Town Meeting drew about 75 voters for the election of town officials and FY 2014 budget approval. There are 513 legal voters in the town.
Early in the meeting, Wardsboro Fire and Rescue Department chief Chris Liller gave a brief report about the all-volunteer department. He gave a heads-up to voters that it is likely that next year the department may be looking for town funding to buy a new rescue vehicle. Liller recapped the department’s current sources of revenue: the town allocation request of $50,000, unchanged from 2012, plus $2,000 from the town of Stratton, as well as income from raffles, the annual turkey supper, and direct gifts from townspeople. Liller said that grants, such as those that might come from Homeland Security, are distinct from the other sources of funding because that money is used for specific equipment or training.
Rep. John Moran gave his annual legislative update to the voters of the town. “Just once,” he said, “I’d like to stand up here and tell you that up in Montpelier we have more money than we know what to do with, but that is not the case this year.” He spoke about uncertain outcomes for the state’s finances as a consequence of the federal sequester. He said that his goal on taxes is to avoid increases; his position on gun control is to support the laws that are currently in place.
Once the moderator was re-elected and the town report was approved by voters, the moderator moved on to Article 3, the election of town officials. Jackie Bedard remains in her three current positions as town clerk, town treasurer, and the collector of delinquent taxes. For the latter, she is not compensated, and later in the meeting there was some discussion and a recommendation to the selectboard to review the town’s policy on remuneration and reimbursement to the collector of delinquent taxes.
The two members ending their terms on the selectboard are Nancy Meinhard, who had been serving as chair, and Robert Backus. New to the selectboard this year will be Barb Vinci, who will serve for three years and Jim Thomas who accepted a one-year term. Amy Kleppner, who is currently vice chair of the board, agreed to stay on for another one-year term. These three were elected by paper ballot because there were two candidates nominated from the floor for each seat. Two board members, Peter Sebastian and Eugene Bills, are completing terms that end in 2014 and 2015, respectively.
In other seats: Michael Hull was re-elected as a lister; Cheryl Coburn will take the position as auditor; and Pearl Dewey agreed to serve as the trustee of public funds. All are three-year terms. Duane Tompkins, the town’s first constable for the past two years, won a one-year term against Joe Novick by paper ballot. Carlene Davis resumes her current duties as second constable for one year; Fred Smith resumes his dual duties as town juror and town agent for one year. Jane Robinson renewed her seat on the cemetery commission for five years, and Nancy Perkins renewed her position as a library trustee for five years. In all, the 15 votes for the town officers took over one hour to complete.
Article 4, to approve the town’s $678,823 budget, failed to generate any deep controversy over any of the issues, line items or other potential hotspots. Board chair Meinhard reassured the taxpayers, “We practically level funded everything. We expect that the town’s tax rate might go down about 3 cents.” Meinhard touched on some uncertainties in Wardsboro’s future finances, saying that the payment for six major repair projects resulting from storm damage by Tropical Storm Irene are in appeal status with FEMA officials. “If FEMA does not agree to pay the full costs of these repairs, the town may need to look at a bond issue to raise about a half-million dollars.”
Two of the largest projects being renegotiated with FEMA are the Boardman Loop Bridge and culverts, and the culverts and repairs on Newell Hill Road. In 2012, then-chair Peter Sebastian reported that “FEMA has been really good to Wardsboro. The town’s roads and infrastructure will be much better than it all was before the storm.” At this year’s meeting, Sebastian was back, as he put it, “to being the board pessimist” as a result of the issues with FEMA. Sebastian said, “Nonetheless, we will still be better off with all the work that has been done, no matter how it eventually gets paid for.”
Some of the dialogue between FEMA, the state, and the town, as the board members and local FEMA coordinator Duane Tompkins explained to the voters, has to do with the gap in costs to perform road and bridge repair work to state standards, which costs less, versus the standards of the Agency of Natural Resources (ANR), whose permitting requirements boost the costs considerably higher. FEMA agrees to assist with the lower costs, and the town wants to only commit to doing work that is fully ANR permitted and therefore more expensive. Meinhard told voters that “we should know the outcomes of the appeals soon.”
In response to a question from voter Carlene Davis, the board explained that almost all of the wages that go to Tompkins as the local coordinator are covered by FEMA as part of the cost of each repair or mitigation project.
The FY 2013-14 budget was approved by verbal vote, with no opposing voices heard. The approved figure is $531 higher than the prior year’s approved budget.
Article 5, the article on allocations from the town to 15 different nonprofit organizations, plus the fire and rescue department and the town’s public library, was brought to the floor for discussion. Phil Dibble speaking on behalf of Grace Cottage Hospital in Townshend, pointed out that during the past year, the hospital provided over $1.1 million in uncompensated care to uninsured members of the regional communities. He thanked the taxpayers of Wardsboro for their contribution of $1,500.
Joyce Cailor spoke on behalf of the Community Food Pantry. Their request from the town for 2013 was $500, up from $200 the prior year. Cailor said that the food provided by the pantry now goes to 40 households, totaling 116 residents in Wardsboro and Jamaica, and that this is a 40% increase in requests for assistance just since Tropical Storm Irene. Cailor thanked the residents for their support, saying, “Hunger has no place in our town.”
Cailor also spoke as a representative of the Friends of the Wardsboro Library, the nonprofit organization that owns the building which the town leases for one dollar a year as its public library. Last year, for the first time, the town allocated $3,000 to offset the cost of heating the library, and the Friends requested the same amount for 2013. Cailor reported that the Friends revenue from its annual appeal was down, however its event income continues to be strong. The amount requested comes to $3.91 per household per year for Wardsboro.
From the floor, voter Jan Hull posed questions about the Friends financing, and seemed to object to the fact that the organization asks for town support, considering the fact they have an endowment fund and, to her, seemed to have surplus income. Cailor explained that the endowment is very small, and has not grown in years, and that much of the money raised recently is going toward the ongoing project of expanding the library space.
Michael Hull, also a voter, asked if Cailor could then explain who pays for what at the facility. To this, Carol Backus, a library trustee, rose to explain that the separate fundraising that their board does pays for books, equipment, supplies and things needed to run the library, but that the Friends fundraising pays for all the costs associated with the building and property. The town will allocate a total of $91,309 to support the various organizations that provide much-needed community services, an increase of $1,104 from the prior year.
With the vote on Article 6, the total amount to be raised by taxes for the FY 2013-14, the majority of voters approved the figure of $786,598; there were at least two opposing voices on this vote. This figure includes $16,446, the 13th of 15 payments on a garage bond.
Under other business, the discussion earlier in the meeting on the matter of compensation for the position of delinquent tax collector was resumed. The selectboard agreed to discuss the issue at their regular selectboard meetings. The town report includes a list of 50 delinquent taxpayers, whose combined unpaid property taxes total over $122 thousand, some going back as far as six years.
Moderator and selectboard member Backus and selectboard member Sebastian both urged the townspeople to convey their appreciation to all who dedicate their efforts to the many board and committee meetings to keep the town’s business in order.
The minutes of the annual school meeting, the annual Town Meeting, and copies of Wardsboro’s 80-page annual report, are available to residents at the town clerk’s office on Main Street. The office is open Monday through Thursday. The town clerk can be reached at (802) 896-6055.