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Strafford Takes a Stand on Climate Change, OKs $1M Proposal

  • David Paganelli, left, chats with Bob and Dorothy McAllister during the lunch break on Town Meeting Day in Strafford, Vt., on March 6, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • At the Strafford Town Meeting resident Toni Pippy speaks about class size during the school meeting on March 6, 2018 in Strafford, Vt. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Strafford, Vt., residents dig into lunch between the town and school portion of Town Meeting Day on March 6, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • On Town Meeting Day in Strafford, Vt., Willis Phelps, left, Shawn Harlow, Pat Kelly and BJ Miller listen during the school portion of the meeting on March 6, 2018. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 06, 2018

Strafford — In theory at least, most voters at Town Meeting Tuesday morning supported an article that would urge state legislators to prioritize the development of renewable energy in Vermont, since the state is behind on its goal to achieve 90 percent of its energy from renewable resources by 2050.

But while virtually everyone who spoke on the article agreed on the importance of addressing climate change, for some voters, it came down to semantics.

At the forefront of this debate was Selectboard member John Freitag, who described the article as “poorly written,” “weak” and “confusing.” He proposed an amendment that would remove most of the article’s wording and condense what was left, but Town Moderator Robert Bauer called foul. This would be tantamount to creating a new article, he said, which was not allowed.

“That’s not amending. That’s replacing,” he said.

Selectboard member Kate Siepmann reminded voters that the statement had “no real teeth, no legislative clout at all” — it was simply a way to put pressure on legislators to act on climate change.

In the end, voters rejected Freitag’s proposed amendment, although they had already approved another amendment that would change the wording of the article so that, rather than demanding that “lowest income people” and “people of color” would not be harmed in the shift toward renewable energy, the article called for equity toward all “marginalized groups.” The article passed with this amendment.

Voters easily approved the proposed $1.02 million to be raised in taxes. While this expenditure represents a roughly $20,000 increase from last year, the municipal tax rate will remain flat at 67 cents per $100 of assessed value, thanks to surpluses in the general and highway funds, said Selectboard member Toni Pippy. This translates to $1,675 in taxes on a $250,000 home.

Voters also agreed to appropriate $500 to Health Hub School Based Health Services, and $110 to the Public Health Council of the Upper Valley.

Nominations were made from the floor, with no contested seats. Lauri Berkenkamp was elected to the Selectboard for a two-year term, taking the place of Stephen Marx. Coupled with voters electing Toni Pippy to another three years on the Selectboard, Berkenkamp’s appointment makes this Selectboard the first in Strafford’s history in which women hold the majority of seats — an observation that was met with roaring applause.

Voters elected Lisa Bragg to another three years as treasurer, and also as agent to deed real estate. Allan Wylie was re-elected to a three-year term as the town lister, and Nellie Pennington was elected to a three-year term as auditor. Andrew Behrens was re-elected, and David Harris was elected, to three-year terms as cemetery commissioners. Jeanne Castro was elected to a one-year term as delinquent tax collector.

Articles on the school side also passed relatively smoothly, with voters approving an expenditure of $3.1 million for the ensuing fiscal year.

This would make per-pupil spending around $15,000, which is 5 percent lower than spending for the current year. 

Greg Bagnato, principal at the Newton School, attributed this to the low class sizes and declining enrollment that is affecting schools statewide.

The School Board also used Town Meeting as an opportunity to bring voters up to speed on Act 46 goings-on. Strafford is one of two towns in the White River Valley Supervisory Union that remain un-merged (the other is Sharon).

Strafford is waiting to hear back on a proposal to the State Board of Education that would keep it this way.

“I wish I’d listened to Steve (Marx),” School Board Chairman Erik Goodling joked, recalling that at the beginning of the Act 46 conversations, Marx had said, “Don’t you do a damn thing.”

Glenn Wylie and Jeff Solsaa were re-elected to the School Board, for three-year and two-year terms, respectively.

Sarah North was also elected for a term to end in 2020, amended from 2019 in the original article. There were no contested seats.