WARDSBORO- In a ballot vote by a small fraction of registered voters, Wardsboro townspeople rejected the proposed Act 46 school district merger with Dover and Marlboro on Tuesday. At Town Meeting, they approved their town budget unanimously, heard concerns about the discontinuation of a bridge, and reelected Peter Sebastian to another three-year term on the selectboard.
Rep. Laura Sibilia and Sen. Becca Balint stopped in to speak with townspeople. Balint said she had worked as a public school teacher, her children were in public schools, and she knew that people in Wardsboro were wrestling with the Act 46 ballot question. “I know that these are not easy conversations. I also know no matter what happens, we will be working on your behalf to make sure that your school stays open.” Sibilia agreed, saying, “No one knows what will happen with this vote, but we promise to keep working with you. You are not alone.”
Voters rejected the Act 46 merger 79-62. According to town clerk Jackie Bedard, there are 528 registered voters in Wardsboro.
Bedard said that school budget of $1,983,726 passed unanimously, as did the the article to set the tuition rate for middle and highschool students at an amount not to exceed the Leland & Gray Union High School tuition. The CLA for the town increased from 107.57% to 108.12%, and the homestead residential tax rate for 2018 is $1.4296, a decrease of 5 cents. Mike Murphy and Jim Thomas were elected to one-year positions on the school board. The three-year school board slot was not filled.
Joe Novick wanted Sibilia and Balint to know that the emission standards that were part of the new vehicle inspection process were overly stringent. “We don’t live in Mexico City, where the air is dangerous to breathe” he said. Novick also said that legislators that pushed for the new standards and penalties did not take the financial impact on rural residents into consideration. “This is a huge problem,” he said. “If people get stopped and are given a $100 fine, that has a tremendous impact (on the finances of many residents of rural Vermont). Sibilia and Balint agreed that there was a lack of awareness on the part of many people in state government about the economic realities of people in rural areas. “We have a rural-urban split,” said Balint. “We have to deal with the issue of affordability and this pushes up against the things that people in Franklin and Chittenden counties are concerned with,” said Balint. “I know that this (divide) is absolutely something that the governor cares about.”
Fire chief Chris Lillersaid that the department anticipated replacing one of its pumper trucks which was 27 years old. He said that while he was going to be working on obtaining a funding for the truck, which could cost in the neighborhood of $350,000. He noted that the town received assistance for other equipment last year and the department might need to ask for assistance from the town. “We will try for another grant but we’re not sure lightning will strike twice. Three hundred and fifty thousand dollars, that’s a lot of raffle tickets and turkey dinners.”
Moderator Dr. Robert Backus reminded people of the importance of civility. “You are democracy in action,” he said. “Civility of discourse is extremely important. It is at the heart of democracy. Civility gets things done.”
Selectboard chair Sebastian gave a brief presentation on the town budget. He said that the highway budget was up by 6% but that a considerable surplus from the previous winter, which was mild, was alleviating that increase. The total amount of taxes to be raised was $728,843. The townspeople passed the budget unanimously.
Backus asked Bedard to explain Article 2, which asked whether the town constable should be prohibited from exercising any law enforcement authority. She said that in the past, some constables who were inadequately trained had gotten involved in law enforcement. Sebastian said that it was a liability issue and therefore an expense issue, as the VLCT would charge more to insure a town that had a constable with law enforcement powers.
Novick, who is the first constable, said that during a disaster such as Irene, having a constable who could perform law enforcement duties could be important and valuable. He also said there were no extra costs being incurred by the town currently, because he was barred from law enforcement as he lacked the appropriate training.
While Sebastian agreed that was currently the case, he said that any constable could seek such training on their own, and there was nothing preventing a constable from doing so.
The floor vote on the matter was inconclusive, so the question was put to a paper ballot. The article passed by a vote of 39 to 29.
In Wardsboro, all town offices are nominated and elected from the floor. Selectboard member Kathy Anderson was nominated to a three-year position, but she declined it, saying that she nominated Sebastian. Selectboard member Mitchell Plimpton also declined the honor. Bedard was unanimously reelected as the town treasurer, the town clerk, and collector of delinquent taxes, and Novick was unanimously reelected as first constable. Requests for funding for the Wardsboro Fire Department, the public library, the community food pantry and other nonprofit organizations were all passed unanimously.
Russell Ayers asked to speak about the town’s decision to relinquish ownership of the bridge on Ayers Road. He said that he lived in a house that was 200 feet beyond the bridge, with two people who used wheelchairs. According to Ayers, the bridge had fallen into a state of disrepair and was no longer rated as being capable of supporting the weight of emergency vehicles.
Sebastian said the selectboard thought the cost of repairing the bridge was too high to justify when only one home was served by the bridge. “The town decided to discontinue the bridge on Ayers Road,” said Sebastian. “The board was very concerned about pouring money into it.” Sebastian disagreed that ambulances could no longer pass over the bridge.
Backus suggested that the conversation was one that could not be solved at Town Meeting, and that it might be best if Ayers talked with the selectboard face to face at another time. “He has tried that,” said former selectboard member Eugene Bills. “The town took over the bridge and road in 1938. Now he can’t get an ambulance across the bridge to his home.”