Chelsea’s School District Meeting will be held on Tuesday, March 7, at 9 a.m., with Town Meeting to follow. Both take place at Chelsea Town Hall. Voting is from the floor.
Chelsea — Town Meeting voters will elect a dozen town officials and weigh in on relatively flat budgets.
Like last year, the proposed town budget would provide for an increase in hours for the town administrator position, a change supporters say is necessary if Chelsea wants to do more than just tread water in an ever-rising sea of state and federal regulations.
Last March, Town Meeting voters shot down the proposed $1.1 million town budget, under which the amount to be raised by taxes would have increased by almost a third, to $775,000. The proposed plan included $30,000 to expand the town administrator position from part time to full time. Several residents at the meeting said they supported bumping up the hours but wanted details about how the increased time would be used.
In a subsequent special Town Meeting, voters approved a budget that was $74,000 less than the initial proposal, and did not provide for expanding the town administrator position to full-time.
The town is subject to a lot more regulations than it was even 10 years ago, and while Selectboard members attend trainings and read the available relevant information, “we still need someone to make sure … we are kept current,” said Selectboard Chair Joan Goodrich. The town clerk and town treasurer have done “an amazing job” staying on top of things, “but it’s just too much work.”
The town administrator position was previously held by Karen Lathrop, who is also town clerk. Lathrop resigned from the town administrator position in November.
Chelsea recently hired Maggie Kerrin, of Waterbury, Vt., for the 20-hour-a-week position, with the understanding that it may expand to 30 hours, Goodrich said. The additional hours would enable them to tackle policies and ordinances that require updating and assess the town’s needs and track down relevant grants.
The Selectboard also wants to work hard on economic development, which the town administrator would be able to help facilitate, Goodrich said. “Right now all you can do is try to keep up with the day-to-day.”
Kerrin, a Vermont native, started work last month. She also is town administrator for St. George, a Chittenden County town with about 700 residents. That position is also part time.
A “meet and greet” Feb. 11 at Chelsea Town Hall was an opportunity to introduce herself to residents and talk with them about their concerns, which include FEMA buyouts related to Tropical Storm Irene, Kerrin said. “It’s something I definitely want to delve into and see the history there and where we’re at.”
Her goals as town administrator include learning more about Chelsea’s transfer station, wastewater system and highway department, and accomplishing as much as she can for the Selectboard. “I want to give them the best support I can” and be a good assistant for residents, said Kerrin, who shares an office with the town treasurer. “I am here for them also.”
The proposed $1.1 million town budget represents an increase of $38,000 over 2016, and would require $690,000 to be raised by taxes. It includes a $112,000 budget surplus, carried over from 2016, to help allay taxes.
The majority of the budget is highway, said Goodrich, adding a plug for the department. “We have two and a half employees and some of the best roads in the state.”
It also includes payments of several bonds — on the water system, sewer plant and new garage — totaling $98,000, and $48,000 to fund the 30-hour Town Administrator position.
The current tax rate is 63 cents on $100 of appraised value. Earlier this week, Jane Cushman, town treasurer, said she had not yet calculated the projected tax rate under the proposed budget.
Selectboard seats held by Susan Elder, Gregory Kotyk and Ruben Hook will become open, as each finish terms this year. Elder said she will run again, for either a three- or two-year seat, and Kotyk plans to run for his seat, which has one year remaining. He was appointed to the Selectboard after Selectman Michael Button moved out of town. A telephone message for Hook was not returned.
The proposed $3.4 million school budget is $65,000 less than the current budget. The proposed budget is “pretty much in line other years,” said Joe Spinella, School Board chair. Nonetheless, taxes would go up under the plan, in large part because of fewer tuition students.
To comply with Act 46, Chelsea and Tunbridge School Districts have proposed merging to form the First Branch Unified School District, which would likely lead to the closure of the small high school in Chelsea as early as the 2018-19 school year. Instead, First Branch would be a preK-8 district. High school students in both Chelsea and Tunbridge would have school choice. While the change may be positive in the long run, in the short run short run, the possibility that Chelsea’s high school could close “creates anxiety” for prospective tuition students, Spinella said.
Under the proposed budget, the homestead tax rate is expected to increase from $1.58 to $1.66 on $100 of assessed value, which translates to a $200 increase on a home valued at $250,000.
Voters also will elect School Board members to fill a two-year and a three-year seat.
Aimee Caruso can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3210.