The reserve fund was mislabeled to begin with, as the word “recovery” was accidentally omitted. Moderator Frank Spencer tried to rein in the issue as early in the meeting as possible, but as the meeting reached its four-hour mark, the issue seemed to spell doom for the article. Bill Adams said he would like the word “control” added to the title, while the confusing nature of the article’s description of its goal led to discussion about the use of the word “events” instead of “efforts.” Selectboard members asked Spencer if they could withdraw the article since it was wrought with misinterpretations and misused language, but instead the voters turned it down on their own, and no discussion was needed over the proposed $100,000 to fund it.
The general fund, which was proposed at $1,243,847, was raised in two areas, and in turn, so was the tax rate. Alan Greenspan made a motion to increase the Memorial Hall marketing line item from $1,500 to $6,000, which was overwhelmingly approved. Tom Consolino’s motion to increase the town road equipment fund appropriation from $150,000 to $225,000 was also easily passed. Voters also nearly skipped over voting for the general fund, when some voters voiced issues with the appropriation of surplus money to the general fund.
Selectboard chair Meg Streeter, serving in her last day in the position, explained that the $590,000 surplus the town had in the proposed fiscal year 2015 budget included $370,000 in tax sale money, which the town accrued from selling tax lots that had been in its possession since 2006. The selectboard decided to apply that money to the general fund to bring down the tax rate from 48 cents to 44 cents. “When we have the chance to sell those tax lots we do, and we feel fortunate to return those to the tax base,” said Streeter.
But budget review board member Cliff Duncan disagreed with the board’s decision. Duncan believes the town should put the money toward what he sees as looming costs. “ We’re not looking at the bigger picture,” said Duncan. “We’re facing huge expenses, needing to move the fire and police departments and town hall, and that money will have to come from somewhere. When you have recovered assets like these tax lots, it’s a golden opportunity with money in hand to put a down payment on the ultimate cost of what will be. I think this budget is indicative of a misappropriation of that money.”
But the members of the selectboard were unwavering, explaining that it is in everyone’s best interest, for the town to return the money to the voters, especially when there is no plan in place to spend the money on relocation or any other project. “Misappropriate is not a good word to use here,” said Streeter. “What we thought was the most honest thing to do is to give the surplus back to the people. When there is a project studied, and money appropriated for it, we will then bring it to the people.”
Selectboard member Susie Haughwout summed it up as a difference of philosophies in how to spend. Consolino said he was concerned that lowering the tax rate dramatically due to a windfall tax sale would only mean taxpayers getting hit hard in fiscal year 2016 as the rate swings back.
“I have respect for where that philosophy is coming from in terms of the future,” said Haughwout. “But I think the difference here is that aside from the good work the advisory board did, we haven’t heard a great groundswell of taxpayers willing to put millions of dollars aside to move the town hall. We just bonded a school, and haven’t retired the garage bond yet.”
Later in the meeting, Duncan attempted to amend article 11, increasing the amount appropriated to the town hall capital fund from $5,000 to $201,000. This would have left the tax rate at 48 cents. But citing no immediate use for the money, voters struck down the amendment with a nay vote.
The town road equipment capital fund was increased from $150,000 to $225,000 after road superintendent Bill Hunt explained that the impending need to purchase a 10-wheeler at $195,000 and a Ford F-550 at $72,000 would decrease the fund dramatically.
Merrill Mundell said that the selectboard was elected for the very purpose of appropriating funds and the voters needed not to act like they had to burn through the town’s surplus. But Consolino’s amendment to raise and appropriate an increase of $75,000 in the budget passed on the floor. The town’s road budget of $1,303,675 was passed on the floor as well.
In other action voters approved $25,000 for the Memorial Hall capital fund, $12,000 for the library capital reserve fund, and $1,000 for the playground capital reserve fund. Voters also agreed to let the town establish a tax stabilization policy which would allow new or expanding businesses in town to pay taxes on their new property in 20% increasing increments over five years.
Voters also gave an aye to allowing electronic delivery of the town report.
Through an Australian ballot vote, Tom Fitzgerald was elected with a write-in campaign to fill the empty selectboard seat, defeating Tom Manton 326-81. Susie Haughwout won the contested three-year term with 266 cotes over 75 write-in votes for Tom Consolino and 19 for Tom Fitzgerald.