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Newbury Talks Tanker Trucks

Newbury, Vt. — The poor condition of the West Newbury Fire Department’s aging tanker truck prompted a lively discussion to start Town Meeting on Tuesday when residents learned that replacing it would wipe out most of the town’s six-figure fire equipment reserve fund.

West Newbury Fire Chief Doug Merrill said the 1983 Chevrolet, a former highway department plow truck converted to firefighting, developed a “major malfunction” this winter while responding to a house fire on Goshen Road in neighboring Bradford.

The tanker developed a serious leak and presented the town with an equipment emergency, one requiring more than $220,000 to fix, Merrill said.

The situation required a fast meeting among the chiefs of the town’s three departments, including Newbury Village’s John Renfrew and Wells River’s Jeff Morin. They supported taking the money from the reserve fund that contains just over $250,000, he said.

“It came upon us rather abruptly, even though it’s been coming for a long time,” Merrill told the Selectboard and about 100 residents gathered at the Newbury Village Hall. He said the tanker had since been patched, temporarily.

“It’s an issue that needs to be addressed,” Selectman Brian Emerson said, adding that the matter came up several days too late to place it on the Town Meeting warning.

“Do we need three tankers in the town of Newbury?” Emerson asked.

Dan Martin, the town’s emergency services coordinator, said Newbury is the fourth-largest town in Vermont in terms of area, but said Stowe, for example, though larger, is mountainous and contains much more uninhabited land than Newbury does.

“That’ll pretty much drain the equipment fund,” resident Mike Thomas said. “But this is exactly what the reserve fund is for.”

Emerson called for a “straw poll” to see if voters backed the idea of giving the Selectboard the authority to spend the money, rather than call a special meeting to let voters cast ballots. The voice vote, though nonbinding, was overwhelmingly in favor of letting the board make the decision. Selectwoman Alma Roystan said members would likely address the matter at their first meeting in April.

Voters approved $15,000 from the bridge reserve fund for an engineering design for Bridge No. 15 in Boltonville. Road Foreman Bob Beaulieu said the $15,000 voters OK’d for that purpose a year ago wasn’t spent because the study was delayed, so he needed voters’ permission again to spend the money. Beaulieu said the study is underway, and the town should receive cost estimates for the bridge project by late summer.

Voters OK’d $11,500 for roof repairs to the 118-year-old Tenney Library in Newbury Village. The money is the town’s share of the $23,000 total, with the other half coming from grant money.

Voters approved a $516,500 general fund and a $650,000 highway fund for 2014.

Despite what may happen at the federal, state and county levels, Emerson said, “Your taxes for the town are not going up this year.”

The turnout of 114 represented 7.4 percent of the town’s 1,536 registered voters. In daylong voting, Stephen Cole was unopposed for a seat on the Selectboard, and Newbury residents voted 77-32 in support of a regional waste management district budget proposal of about $695,000.

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