Board members discussed their visit to Montpelier earlier in the day, where they discussed efforts to reform education financing with House Speaker Shap Smith, the House Ways and Means Committee, and Governor Jim Douglas. Smith recently appointed a legislative committee to work with members of the governor’s staff to examine education funding alternatives. The committee, which includes representatives Ann Manwaring, of Wilmington, and Rick Hube, of Londonderry, met for the first time earlier this week.
“We had an interesting meeting with the governor and his secretary of administration (Neale Lunderville),” said selectboard chair Meg Streeter. “They seemed receptive to our comments about starting over; accepting the premise of the Brigham decision, defining what substantially equal access to education means, and finding the best financing system for Vermont.”
Board members brought a list of discussion points to their meetings Wednesday. The board urged administration officials and legislators not to “tinker” with the current education funding system, but to start fresh and create a new system. The current system, they said, is hard for taxpayers to understand, doesn’t address inequities in school facilities, gives more control to the state, puts a higher burden on local officials, and doesn’t provide equal education for all students. They asked that a “nonlegislative,” or nonpolitical, committee be formed to study the current system and recommend new ideas.
“I think we got a positive response from the speaker, the governor, and the secretary of administration,” said board member Julie Lineberger. “We got a cooler reception from the House Ways and Means Committee.”
Town manager Bob Rusten said the board may have helped focus the new legislative committee. “It was my impression that they were grappling with what to do with the committee,” he said. “I hope our suggestions helped them figure it out.”
In other matters, the board heard from Windham Solid Waste Management District Executive Director George Murray and Merrill Mundell, the town’s representative to the WSWMD board, regarding a controversial proposal to place a $17.55 per ton surcharge on all waste in the district. The surcharge would apply to waste hauled by private companies, even if they don’t use a WSWMD facility. Murray said the surcharge is under consideration by the WSWMD to fund a shortfall in their budget thanks to sharply declining revenue for recyclables, as well as $150,000 in capital expenditures. If the entire amount was borne by towns, their annual tax assessments could almost double.
Several trash haulers were also present to ask the board not to support the surcharge. They said the charge unfairly put the burden on them, and on their commercial customers. “The town might save some money, but your commercial industry, hotels and ski areas, are going to be hit hard,” said Craig Goodenough, of Goodenough Rubbish Removal.
Cheryl Franklin, owner of another trash removal company, said that the WSWMD recycling program was mandated to serve residents of the town, and it wasn’t fair to charge private haulers for problems with recycling revenue.
“When it was proposed, it sounded too good to be true,” said Reed Cutting, of Reed & Sons Rubbish, “and it is too good to be true. We’d like to find another way.”
To impose the surcharge, WSWMD would have to pass a new ordinance authorizing the charge. The WSWMD board is scheduled to take up the matter this week. Selectboard members agreed to take no action regarding the proposed surcharge until the WSWMD board makes their decision on the ordinance.