Article 2 asked voters to raise and appropriate $701,319 for the town’s general fund, $492,261 of which would be raised in taxes, and the balance coming from $161,022 in anticipated revenues and $48,036 appropriated from the prior year’s fund balance.
Sherry Adams urged all residents present to think about the less fortunate residents in town before they made any votes on the budget. John Robohm asked about the costs listed in the town report concerning the cost of the report and asked about the $4,500 that was saved this year. Selectboard member Greg Brown responded that some of the money was saved in postage but he could not account for all of the savings.
Johanna Robohm asked the selectboard why there wasn’t a $120,000 payment from TransCanada as there has been in the past. Board member Karl Twitchell said that the current agreement had ended and the state had reassessed TransCanada, which was protesting the assessment.
Brown said that the town was in touch with TransCanada and considered it, as the largest taxpayer, very important to the town. Brown said that the situation could be resolved and the monies could be restored to the budget.
Dana Dix questioned the $15,150 allocated for police coverage. Brown responded that currently the town has no police coverage but felt it was prudent to have the money in the budget. Dix also questioned the allocation for Memorial Day flowers of $2,700. Dix felt that $1,500 could be cut from that allocation. Dix made an amendment to the budget cutting the amount raised by taxes by $20,000.
After some discussion, moderator Leon Corse asked Dix if he wanted his amendment to specify where the cuts were to be made or wanted to leave it to the discretion of the selectboard. Dix responded that he would leave it to the board.
Carrie Blake questioned whether it was prudent to cut the line item for police protection with Twin Valley High School scheduled to be moving to Whitingham. Brown responded that that was why the board had left the money in the budget. School board member Dwight Williams stated that the town would be responsible for police coverage, not the school.
Corse called for a voice vote on the amendment. But after deciding that the nos had the majority, a paper ballot was called for with a result of 57 yes, 39 no. Corse then called for a vote on the amended amount, which passed by a voice vote.
Article 3 requested $7,758 for the upkeep and improvement of Town Hill Common. John Robohm questioned the amount of the article, which included employment costs, since no wages were listed. Board member Alan Twitchell responded that any work done on Town Hill was considered a special cost and was budgeted that way at the recommendation of the auditor. The article passed.
Article 4, a request for $65,175 for the operation of the town fire department was proposed by fire chief Stanley Janovsky. The article passed with no opposition. Article 5, a request for $20,000 for the fire department equipment fund, was passed over at the request of Janovsky. Adams asked why Janovsky wanted to pass over the article. Janovsky responded the equipment fund was good for the next five years because of equipment purchased in the past. He added that the fire department wanted to help the town reduce its tax burden. Adams commended Janovsky for his effort. Article 5 was passed over. Corse noted that Vermont was the only state that passed over articles.
Article 6, to raise $942,438 in taxes for the highway department’s proposed budget of $1,171,074, the rest to be offset by $119,385 in revenue and $109,240 from the prior year’s fund balance, was moved by Janovsky in his role as road commisioner.
Steve Morse asked to amend the article to include the $ 200,000 of the money requested for paving in Article 8. Morse stated that he felt that paving was part of a road budget. Morse praised the selectboard and road commissioner for their work, but he said he didn’t favor borrowing to pay for road upkeep. Brown responded that he did not favor borrowing the money. Paving costs $125,000 per mile. Including the $200,000 in the annual budget, rather than borrowing the money, would mean that $200,000 would need to be budgeted for each of the following four years.
Dwight Williams noted that the budget for the school would soar this year. Next year the consolidation savings would be greater and the bond payment will be less. Williams advocated waiting for a year if possible. Former road commissioner Don Boyd asked if the increase would be used for paving. Corse stated that the way the amendment was presented the increase would have to be used for paving. Board member Karl Twitchell suggested that the discussion of paving be delayed until Article 8 was discussed and then the voters could deal with paving specifically. Corse stated that Article 8 had to be a discussion of a loan for paving. Board member Alan Twitchell reminded the town that every $20,000 added to the budget means a penny increase in the tax rate. Twitchell warned that the increase in school taxes would be significant and felt that it would be prudent to wait another year. Robohm questioned the board’s reason for proposing the $1 million paving loan.
Janovsky responded that he had several complaints about the condition of the blacktop roads. He felt that a $1 million loan would enable him to redo 10 miles of blacktop. Janovsky said he was in favor of Morse’s amendment and recommended the town pass over the loan article. Adams spoke in favor of the amendment. The amendment passed by a voice vote. Janovsky then amended the amount to be raised in taxes by $5,000 with the anticipated revenues increased by the same amount. The amendment passed and then Article 6 passed as amended.
During a break in the meeting, Rep. Ann Manwaring addressed voters. She explained that Whitingham now has two representatives in the Legislature thanks to last year’s redistricting process. A portion of Whitingham near the Readsboro border was carved out and became part of Rep. John Moran’s district.
Manwaring also told voters that Whitingham’s education tax was going to be the highest in the state over the next fiscal year. She also said that the state’s homestead education tax rate would go up by 5 cents. Adams asked about income sensitivity and whether that provision would continue. Manwaring said 80% of Whitingham taxpayers are eligible for income sensitivity and she was in favor of the provision. Manwaring was questioned about whether the tiers for income sensitivity were going to change. She responded that she was not aware of any legislation that was going to change income sensitivity. Robohm asked when everyone in Whitingham would have access to broadband Internet. Manwaring responded that it was scheduled for the end of the year.
Moran also addressed voters later in the meeting. He said he is working on reforming the property tax system. Moran also said the Legislature is dealing with sequester-related cuts to civilian workers at the Vermont National Guard. Moran also decried the state’s proposed earned income tax credit cut.
School board member Seth Boyd asked Moran to help with the state’s reassessment of TransCanada, which has increased Whitingham’s school tax rate. Moran stated that he was unaware of the problem but would join with Manwaring to try to help Whitingham.
Later, Dr. Karen Hein, a Whitingham resident who is one of the five members of the Vermont Health Care Reform Board, addressed the meeting about the status of Vermont’s health care reform. Hein said the average health care cost for each Vermonter is $8,000. In 2014 there will be a health exchange or marketplace to facilitate choosing the best value in health care. In 2017 Green Mountain Care, which will be a statewide health care system, will take effect.
Returning to the meeting, voters considered Article 7, a $75,000 request for the highway equipment fund. Don Boyd asked how much was in the fund. Brown responded that there was about $145,000 in the fund now. Brown said that the money for the equipment fund is based on a formula devised a few years ago and should be increased. The article passed as written.
Article 8, the $1 million loan for paving, was passed over.
Voters passed Article 9, the Whitingham Free Public Library’s $66,252 budget. Of the total budget, $54,480 will be raised in taxes with the balance to come from anticipated donations.
Article 10, a $10,000 request for the municipal facilities fund, was passed over. Dana Dix asked how much was in the municipal facilities fund. Brown responded that there was $52,000 in the fund now. Dix made a motion to pass over the article. The measure passed 59 to 29 on a paper ballot.
Article 11, $14,050 for the Whitingham Ambulance Service, was amended to include the term “continued” support of an ambulance service in Whitingham. Janovsky said that the Whitingham Ambulance Service is in disarray, with only six members, and their operating permit expires at the end of March. Janovsky read a statement that had been presented to the Whitingham Ambulance Service which said that if the Whitingham Ambulance Service dissolves, all their equipment would revert to the Whitingham Fire Department. Janovsky said the Whitingham Fire Department would turn over all the equipment to Deerfield Valley Rescue, which would take over the ambulance service for Whitingham. Janovsky said that the fire department would start emergency rescue training for fire department personnel and interested townspeople. The amendment passed, and the article passed as amended.
Board member Alan Twitchell made a motion to combine Articles 16 and 18 through 24. John Robohm questioned the propriety of combining articles. The motion passed. When the appropriation for $1,203 for Home Health Care Services could not be explained, Robohm made an amendment to eliminate the money. Board member Karl Twitchell said that the he was familiar with the work of the Home Health Care Services and recommended its passage. One voter said that voting against mental health services at this time would make Whitingham residents look like “rednecks and morons.” Adams stated that questioning expenditures was smart and that a representative of Home Health Care Services should be present. The amendment was defeated. The article passed as originally proposed.
Article 17 requested $2,100 to support economic development in the upcoming fiscal year. Boyd asked what economic development was going on in Whitingham. Kris Sweeter, who is a member of the committee, said that they were working on making a food processing center, a brochure for town attractions, and a town website. Almira Aekus said that last year’s money was used for the historical marker signs at the municipal center and Town Hill. The article passed.
Under Article 26, other nonbinding business, Janovsky suggested that voters direct the selectboard to write a letter to respectfully ask the Whitingham Ambulance Service to disband and turn over the equipment to the fire department for the purpose of continuing ambulance coverage in Whitingham. Janovsky stated that most of the current members of the Whitingham Ambulance Service reside in Halifax and they have threatened to turn over the ambulance to Halifax.
The annual school district meeting was convened at 2:29 pm. The only article besides an Australian ballot question that required a vote was Article 4, to authorize the board to borrow money in anticipation of taxes. The article passed.
Bob Grossbaum brought to voters’ attention his concerns about the maintenance of the vacated high school building in Wilmington. Grossbaum asked the school board to ensure that Whitingham is not responsible for maintenance costs. School board chair Seth Boyd stated that there are many entities who are interested in taking over the high school once it is vacant. Boyd also stated that the new middle/high school renovation is scheduled to start in June 2013 with a finish date of fall 2014. The meeting adjourned at 2:39 pm.