Norwich To Vote on Increases

  • Marcia Calloway, of Norwich, Vt. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Mary Layton is a candidate for Norwich Selectboard. (Courtesy photograph)

  • Claudette Brochu, a candidate for the Norwich Selectboard, poses for a headshot on Thursday, February 16, 2017 at the Norwich Public Library in Norwich, Vt. (Valley News - Jovelle Tamayo) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Rob Gere is a candidate for Norwich Selectboard. (Chad Finer photograph)

  • Leah Romano is a candidate for the Norwich Selectboard. (Lars Blackmore photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Friday, February 16, 2018

Voting for municipal and school-related articles on the Norwich Town Meeting warning will take place from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 6, at Tracy Hall. The floor meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, March 5, also at Tracy Hall.

Norwich — Voters at Town Meeting next month will vote on proposed increases in both the municipal and school budgets and also decide two contested Selectboard races.

On top of the increase in the proposed 2018-19 Marion Cross School budget, which is up 1.85 percent in gross spending for a total of $5.68 million, residents seeking to fund another fifth-grade teacher have asked to add another $100,000.

The Norwich School Board in January voted not to include the money in the main budget, opting instead to make the request a separate article on the warning, according to a video of its Jan. 25 meeting.

Parents expressed concern during the budgeting process about fifth-grade class sizes, which school officials predicted would be about 22 or 23 children for each of the two teachers budgeted, according to School Board Chairman Tom Candon. The residents proposed increasing teacher staffing by the equivalent of one more full-time employee in order to offset those class numbers, he said.

The wording of the warning article does not require that the money be used for a specific educational program, Candon said in an email this week, because board members were concerned about limitations in state law.

In other major appropriation requests, town officials are asking voters to approve a line of credit to help finance repairs from the July 1 storm that devastated the region’s roads and infrastructure, causing damage in some cases more severe than Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. A warning article asks for the authority to borrow up to $4 million, anticipating reimbursement of up to 75 percent from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and up to 12.5 percent from the state of Vermont.

The municipal budget itself is proposed to rise about 0.9 percent to $4.5 million, not including outside spending articles of about $360,000 that include $270,000 in operational costs to run the town library.

If voters approve all proposed municipal spending, town officials estimate a property tax rate increase of about 1.4 cents per $100 in valuation. That translates to another $56 in taxes on a $400,000 home.

If the school budget passes, officials anticipate adding an extra nine cents to the tax rate, or $360 more on the same home. Approving the $100,000 warning article for “the support of educational programs for the school year” would add about $69 on top of taxes incurred by the main budget, officials said in explanatory Town Meeting documents.

Meanwhile, the upcoming retirement of Steve Flanders, a former Selectboard chairman who has served since 2011, has opened up his two-year seat to a trio of contenders: Claudette Brochu, Rob Gere and Leah Romano.

Romano, a human resources manager at the local education tech company Aquifer, said she was running for Selectboard to make a difference at a local level in response to national trends that she said disturbed her.

“I’m running for Selectboard because I believe serving at the local level is where I want to make a significant difference,” she said, before adding, “Especially in this time of national disorder.”

A veteran board member and volunteer in numerous arts and charitable organizations, including the Vermont Pride Festival and the Thetford Chamber Singers, Romano said she recently completed a training course at Emerge Vermont, an organization that seeks to place women in elected positions around the state.

Romano said she was running more to facilitate conversation and connect residents with their government than to promote a particular issue in office.

“I firmly believe that how we engage with one another is just as important as the issues,” she said. “I believe I’d be a strong candidate to express a fresh perspective.”

Brochu, a retired intensive care nurse who sought a Selectboard seat at the 2017 Town Meeting, said she is running again to bring the issue of affordability to the fore.

“The municipal budget recently passed by the Selectboard will include yet another increase in taxes,” Brochu said in a statement. She was not available for an interview. “While some may see the increase as minimal and easily absorbed by taxpayers, not all residents do. If low- and moderate-income families are having difficulty with our current tax rates, why do we think new low and moderate income residents will have less difficulty?”

For the past few years, Brochu has sat in on numerous Selectboard meetings, raising questions during the budget process and going line by line through spending proposals to identify areas for savings.

As a nurse at Mary Hitchcock Hospital, she worked on evidence-based reforms to medical practice at the hospital and helped develop simulation programs for Intensive Care Unit nurses. After retirement in 2014, she worked as a florist and also as an associate with another local health care provider.

Gere, a technology specialist at Hanover High School, said he dipped a toe in last year’s race, which Brochu ended up losing to current Vice Chairman John Pepper, but bowed out early because he largely agreed with Pepper’s message of bringing transparency and good working relationships to town government.

Gere said Pepper and Selectman John Langhus had contributed to an improved atmosphere on the Selectboard and in its dealings with the town manager.

“I would help maintain, if I were elected, that efficient and convivial attitude,” he said.

Gere has served Norwich as a Development Review Board member, Finance Committee member and justice of the peace, and also was chairman of the board of local cable channel CATV as recently as 2015.

In office, he said he hoped to ensure that employees of Norwich were compensated fairly for their work and would “not be seen as the target of budget cuts.” Citing the enormous cost of the July 1 storm, among other weather disasters, he also expressed a desire to prepare the town for the “inevitable unexpected expenses that arrive as (the) climate changes.”

In the race for a three-year seat on the Selectboard, Mary Layton, the current chairwoman, is running for re-election against Marcia Calloway, a Hopson Lane resident who has been outspoken in her opposition to planning and zoning changes that could encourage development in the Route 5 South area.

Layton, who teaches at Open Fields School in Thetford, joined the board in 2015 and has been chairwoman for the past year. She cited her role in the police and fire facilities renovations, the hiring of a new town manager and other major initiatives in an interview earlier this month.

Another reason for her to run again was a desire for continuity in times of change for the town, Layton said.

“We’re getting into a transitional time in Norwich where many of the department heads are reaching retirement age,” Layton said, perhaps referring to the imminent retirement of Fire Chief Steve Leinoff, among others. “I want that to be a smooth process.”

If she were elected to a second term, Layton said, she hopes to focus on the town’s capital reserve funds, among other issues, thinking about how best to plan and save for the community’s future.

“I love my town,” she said. “I feel like this is a chance to give back.”

Calloway, her challenger, is an attorney who works at Dartmouth College and has been among a group of vocal opponents to planning and zoning proposals that they fear could encourage too much development in town.

Calloway said in an interview this week that she was running to bring transparency to local government. Throughout the Planning Commission’s and Selectboard’s work on revisions to the Town Plan, a document that articulates the community’s vision for land use, Calloway raised questions about the degree to which board members were including residents’ points of view.

“It’s good to have dialog and debate,” she said, “and I think there should always be room for opinions, and I want to see that we do all we can to elicit these opinions.”

For experience, Calloway cited her legal education as a “useful toolkit” for governance, as well as her past service on the boards of local Montessori schools. Besides her interest in open government, Calloway said, she isn’t hoping to promote specific issues as a board member.

“To some extent you shouldn’t come into something with a pre-formed agenda,” she said. “Rather, you’re supposed to be serving people and making sure that everybody has a sustainable environment to live in.”

The voting portion of Town Meeting takes place from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on March 6, and the floor meeting will open for debate the night before at 7 p.m. Both events are at Tracy Hall.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or at 603-727-3242.