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Woodstock OKs Revised Spending Plan



Valley News Correspondent
Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Woodstock — Several dozen town residents voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday night to pass a revised budget for the coming fiscal year.

The original, $6 million proposed budget would have driven the municipal property tax rate up 10 percent, but voters rejected that proposal in March, prompting the town’s Selectboard to devise a leaner budget, one more reliant on borrowing.

Voters responded positively to the rejiggered, $5.8 million budget, passing it within 15 minutes of the opening of Tuesday’s special town meeting.

“That’s what happens when you take it from 10 (percent) to three (percent),” Selectboard member Jill Davies said of voters’ embrace of the more modest property tax increase.

Selectboard member Sonya Stover said the budget’s earlier failure encouraged the body to think more creatively about how to address the town’s needs.

“After the last town meeting,” she said, “we went back to the drawing board, and got a crash course in municipal debt.”

Some of the changes the town made were taking a rent-to-own approach to paying for town vehicles and making only a down payment on a new fire truck.

“It’s not that we cut $200,000 away,” Stover emphasized. “We did it through the timing of these payments.”

Stover also read aloud a note from Tom Debevoise, a farmer who had vocally opposed the first budget. (“It’s a shame he can’t be here tonight, but cows come first,” Stover quipped.)

In the note, Debevoise announced his support for the new budget.

Not all attendees approved of the updated document, however.

Michael Brands, the town planner and a town resident, said it shortchanged municipal employees.

In particular, he felt the lack of merit-based pay increases reflected a disrespect for the town’s long-tenured staff.

“We need to treat our workers the best we can,” he said, because it’s “so important for our community to have long-term workers.”

Brands was one of only two or three attendees to vote against the budget.

Following passage of the budget, voters unanimously approved an article calling for improvements to the town hall building, to be funded by a loan, a grant from the utility Efficiency Vermont, and contributions from the town’s operating budget and capital reserve.

The planned upgrades include replacing the town hall’s oil-fired boilers with ones fueled by propane gas, as well as better insulating the building.

Stover ended the meeting by articulating another goal: fixing the town’s roads. “That is big in our minds,” she said. “The potholes are terrible this year.”

One solution she proposed was including a special article on the warning for next year’s town meeting, to raise money specifically to fix deteriorating roads.

Resident Cary Agin chimed in, saying that the degree to which people are talking about how bad the roads are “is scary.” He cited Bond Street as a trouble spot, saying he “blew out a tire” there.

Selectboard Chairman L.D. Sutherland agreed on the need to take action. He said several town roads demanded attention, and that repairing them would be “good for business.”

Gabe Brison-Trezise can be reached at g.brisontrezise@gmail.com.