Voters boost budget, reject expansion
by Margo Avakian
Mar 07, 2013 | 800 views | 0 0 comments | 5 5 recommendations | email to a friend | print
HALIFAX- In an unusual move, Town Meeting attendees voted to increase the school district budget by $1,500. Although the voters could not legally specify the use to which that money will be put, they made it crystal clear that it should be spent on enrichment programs for Halifax School students. Two arguments were advanced in favor of the increase: first and foremost, that the “bare bones” approach to budgeting is beginning to shortchange students. The second argument, more speculative, was that additional programs might induce families now sending their children to other schools to enroll them in Halifax. That would help bring the district’s per-pupil costs down.

Voters also agreed to amend the appropriation for the Whitingham Free Public Library, increasing it by $500.

Article 16, a proposal to expand the three-member selectboard to five members, the two additional members to serve one-year terms, was defeated after a lively debate that followed Wayne Courser’s unsuccessful effort to pass over the article. Those in favor of the expansion argued that the selectboard’s job has grown in complexity as well as in sheer volume. Proponents also cited the fact that as things stand, selectboard members cannot speak to one another about town business, even to ask a question, without triggering the legal requirement for a warned meeting. Board vice chair Edee Edwards noted that the number of warned meetings rose to 77 in the last year.

Earl Holtz, who just completed his first year on the board, said he thought his learning curve would have been accelerated if more experienced members could have mentored him. Former board chair John LaFlamme suggested that a one-year term is not sufficient for a new member to “get up to speed” and become “productive.”

Voters debated whether there is enough interest in serving to support a five-member board; several people observed that Edwards was running unopposed for re-election. Other objections included the extra cost ($3,600 per year, at present stipend rates) and the possibility of factionalism on an expanded board. Craig Stone warned that any intraboard discussion outside of warned meetings would create an opportunity to “skirt the open meeting law.” Holtz agreed that board members would need to exercise care to “maintain our high ethics.” The measure was put to a paper ballot and was narrowly defeated, 33 to 29.

A proposal to adopt an official town seal was passed over. While some, including Edwards, questioned the cost of adding the seal to town vehicles and documents, most objections focused on the design itself. The suggestion that the design might better come from a town-wide contest was greeted with some enthusiasm, but no formal move to adopt that suggestion was made.

All other proposed expenditures were approved, although the town’s contribution to the Women’s Freedom Center had to survive Cara Cheyette’s proposed amendment to cut it from $700 to $250.

In what is becoming an annual Halifax Town Meeting event, the constables’ budget sparked a lengthy debate. This year, the debate centered on whether to add language specifying that funds in excess of the $2,000 budgeted for uncertified constables are to be used only to defray training expenses for constables seeking certification. That language, eventually adopted, simply reflects current practice. One voter said he had been told by a sheriff’s office employee that the sheriff would not certify any constable, no matter how well he or she did at the state academy. Former constable Andy Rice responded, informing voters that, while sheriffs may resist any move that potentially cuts into their business, the academy has set up an alternate system for active mentoring for constables that bypasses the sheriffs.

Due to serial errors at the Brattleboro Post Office and the White River Junction processing center, a sizeable number of residents did not receive their town reports, which are apparently languishing somewhere in New Jersey. Copies of the proposed town and highway budgets were provided for voters without reports, but in order to validate the results of Tuesday’s meeting, a special Town Meeting will be held in April.
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