Voters nominated and elected Tella Penson to serve another year as school district moderator, and Jacki Murano to a three-year selectboard seat.
Voters nominated two people, Tony Kilbride and incumbent Lisa Munsill, for a two-year school board position. Kilbride won the seat in a paper ballot, with 15 votes to 11. Munsill was nominated again under Article 4, along with Sandy Gasek, for the remaining two years of a three-year term on the board, but in the paper ballot Gasek won 14 to 10. Under Article 5, Munsill and Matt Somerville were nominated for the remaining year of a three-year term. Somerville won the paper ballot, 15 to 11.
But this will be the last year Searsburg voters nominate and elect their school board members from the floor. Voters unanimously approved Article 6, to elect school officers by Australian ballot beginning in March 2015. Searsburg town officials are already elected by Australian ballot.
Article 7 asked voters to approve the payment of $15,400 in tuition for students attending Burr and Burton academy. This year was the first time the question appeared on the warning, and represents an increase of about $1,648 from the statewide average secondary tuition that the town is required to pay for students attending independent schools like Burr and Burton Academy. Voters unanimously approved the article.
Under Article 8, voters approved the school budget of $328,166, a figure nearly $100,000 lower than the current budget. One voter asked if the reduction would result in a lower tax rate. “The tax is down by about 11 cents,” said school board chair Annette Hazell.
Responding to a voter’s question about bus transportation, Hazell said Searsburg students are currently without transportation to Halifax school, following the recent death of bus company owner Barry Gerdes. For now, the district is reimbursing parents who drive their children to Halifax school. But Hazell said the district is exploring options for transportation.
Sherrie Lind asked about an increase in Searsburg’s supervisory union assessment, which she noted had nearly tripled, from $4,839 to $12,944. Hazell said the supervisory union e-board changed the way the assessment is calculated. “We have one vote,” she said. “When the board decided to increase that, there really was nothing we could do.”
Supervisory union business manager Karen Atwood explained that Searsburg’s assessment had been figured on an outdated assumption regarding the percentage of Searsburg students in the supervisory union. “Back then, Searsburg had 1% of the students, and that’s the way the assessment was for years.”
This year, Atwood said, the supervisory union looked at the distribution of students again, and Searsburg’s percentage of students in the supervisory union was about 3%. Atwood said she tried several methods of figuring the number, but in each case Searsburg’s percentage was the same. “At that time the board voted that Searsburg’s assessment be increased to support those students.”
The Town Meeting portion of the evening was over quickly, as voters approved article after article with little discussion.
Under Article 16, voters approved the highway department budget of $123,450 unanimously, after Hazell asked selectboard members why two expenditures in the current budget, a $29,802 expenditure for a backhoe and a $61,000 expenditure for a new truck, hadn’t been approved by voters at a special Town Meeting. Board member Gerry DeGray said the board is responsible for maintenance of the town roads and authorized to make the purchases. DeGray told voters the old backhoe had become a liability, racking up repair bills from $6,000 to $10,000 per year. “The projected cost of keeping it was astronomical, so we put it to rest,” he said.
Voters also approved the general fund budget of $113,900 under Article 17. Under other business, one voter asked about the status of the expansion of wind generation in Searsburg. “That’s still in litigation,” DeGray said. “There’s a citizens’ action group that’s challenging the results of the environmental study.”
Another voter asked about the status of a wireless Internet tower that VTEL planned to erect on town land near the highway department garage and town office. “That’s still in permitting,” said board member Gasek. “We’re hoping they’ll be moving forward with it in the spring, but we’re waiting on them.”