Searsburg voters make quick work of Town Meeting agenda items
by Mike Eldred
Mar 07, 2013 | 1873 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Francis Hagar and Dan Hollister listen intently to the discussion at Searsburg Town Meeting.
Francis Hagar and Dan Hollister listen intently to the discussion at Searsburg Town Meeting.
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SEARSBURG- Searsburg’s annual Town Meeting adjourned less than an hour-and-a-half after it began Monday evening, a reflection not only of voters’ unity on the issues, but also the number of voters in the room. The 20 or so voters who turned out for the meeting might have been home in less than an hour if not for a break between the town and school portions of the meeting, the reading of the voter checklist, and a discussion with Rep. John Moran.

Moran, who was scheduled to speak at other meetings in his district Monday night, spoke at the beginning of the meeting, and took questions from voters. Toby Munsill asked Moran why there was a state education reserve fund in addition to the regular state education fund. “There shouldn’t be an education reserve fund,” Munsill said. “It should be allocated back to the people of Vermont, the taxpayers.”

Moran agreed, but said the fund was for emergencies. “What kind of emergency?” asked selectboard member Gerry DeGray.

Moran said he didn’t know exactly what kind of emergencies were anticipated when the fund was created. “Our taxes have gone up considerably,” said Munsill. “And we’d like our money for education.”

Tax collector Derek Lind asked Moran about his stance on gun control. “I think the laws we have in the state of Vermont are fine,” Moran said. “I don’t support any gun control legislation.”

Moran said he sponsored a bill that would make it legal to use noise suppressors on guns in Vermont. “So that people can practice in their backyards without disturbing their neighbors,” he said.

In the first four articles of the school district meeting, voters re-elected Tella Penson as moderator, Joanne Scott as school director for three years, Annette Hazell as school director for two years, and Lisa Munsill as school director for one year.

Article 5, to approve a $428,063 school budget, garnered more discussion. Sherrie Lind noted that it was “up by about 60%” over last year’s budget of $255,873. Board member Sandy Gasek said most of the increase was in tuition and special education. “Tuition, based on the fact that we have so many more kids in school,” she said.

The district’s 2014 school budget may be up by about 60%, but their revenue is up substantially from the current year’s anticipated revenue. Because of a previous year’s negative fund balance, the net anticipated revenue for 2013 is only $8,462. For 2014, the anticipated revenue, including an almost $18,000 fund balance, is estimated at $103,751.

Windham Southwest Supervisory Union Business Manager Karen Atwood explained that the negative fund balance was largely the result of tuition for two students who moved into the district after the budget was approved.

Atwood also pointed out that, while special education costs were up for the district, there was an increase of almost $38,000 in reimbursement for intensive special education included in the anticipated revenue. “About 56% of your intensive special education excess cost is reimbursed by the state,” she said.

Parent Denise Foery asked how funding would work if her children, who are now home-schooled, were to attend an independent school like Burr and Burton Academy in the future. Board members told her the town would pay the state average tuition, and her family would have to pay any amount over that figure.

“Is it possible to have the town pay the whole thing?” asked Toby Munsill. “I think the school board is capable of doing that, instead of giving you the state average. Dover does that.”

Lisa Munsill said that the town could vote to pay more than the statewide average.

Discussion ended, and moderator Penson called for a voice vote. The budget passed, although with a few “nays” voiced among the crowd.

After a short break, during which selectboard members took their seats in front of voters, the municipal portion of the meeting began. The first few articles passed with no discussion. Under Article7, to authorize the board to borrow money if needed to meet the town’s expenses, one voter asked if the town had any outstanding bills.

DeGray said there a couple of issues regarding FEMA reimbursement for work related to Tropical Storm Irene, but their effect on the town’s expenses wasn’t clear at this point. He said the town was working with the state to appeal FEMA decisions not to pay for work at the beginning of Somerset Road, and near the end of the town’s portion of Somerset Road. “We have four sites pending,” he said. “We’ve received a portion of the funds, but to get our portion of the rest, we’ve got to get the state involved, and they’re inundated with a lot of work, so it’s tough to get a response. But it’s still in the works.”

Voters also passed several appropriations for nonprofit organizations, including a $150 appropriation for the Deerfield Valley Food Pantry.

Voters passed the highway department’s $141,950 budget, the tax liability for which, Penson noted, would be reduced by $9,500 in state revenue. “That must be coming from the education reserve fund,” joked Toby Munsill.

Later, under “other business,” Derek Lind asked why the wing for the town’s grader was “out in a heap” and wasn’t being use to wing back snowbanks along town roads. Lind asked why a loader was being used to push back snow around the town garage driveway.

“I honestly don’t have an answer,” said DeGray. “I can talk to the road foreman and find out why.”

“Does the new truck have a wing?” asked Munsill. Board member Tony Kilbride said the truck doesn’t have a wing. “We haven’t needed (the wing) until this last storm,” he said. “It doesn’t take long to put it on when you need it, and it’s a lot of extra weight sitting on the grader when you don’t need it.”

The discussion wrapped up and the article passed.

Voters quickly passed Article 17, the evening’s last binding article, to raise and appropriate $108,450 for the town’s general fund. Penson noted that the tax liability would be reduced by anticipated revenue of $28,250. “Is that coming from the school reserve fund?” joked Munsill again. “That’s a nice receipt.”
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