Plainfield Makes Fast Work Of Budget
Don Macleay speaks in opposition to the covered bridge proposal during Plainfield’s Town Meeting yesterday. The article was voted down. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »
Susan Gregory-Davis, right, whispers to Deb Scott during the Plainfield Town Meeting at Plainfield Elementary School yesterday. Voters approved the town’s $1.97 million budget by a vote of 153-7. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »
Ron Burnham waits for his wife, Donna, to return with some lunch during a break at Plainfield’s Town Meeting. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »
Votes deciding Article 4 are counted during Plainfield's Town Meeting. (Valley News - Libby March) Purchase photo reprints »
Meriden — It took only seven minutes and two comments from the public for voters to pass the Plainfield town budget, which sees a slight increase in both expenditures and property taxes.
The proposed $1.97 million budget, the first article of the morning, went through by a vote of 153-7. After a presentation by Town Administrator Steve Halleran, during which he described the notable changes in both expenses and revenues, two speakers lauded the work of the town’s police department and volunteer fire department, respectively.
“I think it’s really important that we stand behind them,” said Rod Wendt, after telling a story about the positives of small-town policing to more than 150 at the Plainfield Elementary School gym.
One of the largest increases in expenditures under the passed budget was a $16,820 increase in police funding to accommodate increases in officer salaries and benefits. The budget also includes $21,000 more for continued payments on an expansion of a town-owned gravel pit on Ferry Hill Road.
Altogether, the changes mark a 1.8 percent increase in the operating budget, which means a 3 percent increase in the town tax rate. Town tax rates will jump 13 cents, from $4.57 to $4.70 per $1,000 of assessed value. For a property assessed at $200,000, taxes will increase $32.50 annually.
During his presentation, Halleran noted that the budget increase was the smallest the town could reasonably achieve.
“Zero (increase) is just so hard to do right now,” he said. “We can do zero but we’d have to change something. We would have to take something meaningful out.”
All of the money-based articles passed by large margins yesterday, even ones that inspired some grumbling, such as renewing the 80 percent tax exemption on dormitories, dining rooms and kitchens at Kimball Union Academy. The exemption was reduced from 100 percent at Town Meeting three years ago.
That article, after a prolonged discussion about private tuition costs at KUA versus taxpayer dollars funding Plainfield students at Lebanon High School, still passed, 80-52.
The only article voted down was done so emphatically, as a request to create a committee that would produce a study on turning a one-lane bridge on Daniels Road into a “covered” bridge failed, 113-19.
“We sit at Selectboard meetings at a weekly basis, going over sort of the mundane details of the town, sort of counting the beans and doing the day-to-day stuff,” said Selectman Rob Taylor.
“Very rarely do we think outside of the box, and this is one of those rare occasions. The idea wasn’t to actually build a covered bridge from scratch, officials said, but rather to provide a cover for the existing bridge, which would be funded by contributions and volunteer work so as to not affect the taxpayers.
Voters came down on the negative side in force. Margaret Drye, a member of the Cornish Rescue Squad, worried about poor visibility offered by a covered bridge, especially as rescue vehicles speed down the road at high speeds.
Others worried the aesthetic visibility would be negatively affected by cover.
“When I do walk, I always stop at that bridge,” said Doug Cogan, who lives nearby. “And I look at the brook, and the water flow by, and the reflection of the sun.”
An amendment that would force the committee to come back with findings and a plan for building at next year’s Town Meeting narrowly failed, and then the initial article was shut down.
Later, Halleran said the board would continue to pursue that style of outside-the-box thinking, though the covered bridge idea was permanently put to rest yesterday.
Overall, though, voters seemed amenable to the 11 articles voted upon yesterday. At one point, they considered an article that would increase the tax credit for veterans in town from $150 to $300.
“I don’t know about the rest of you, but we adore our veterans, and for us this was a no-brainer,” Selectboard Chairman Tom Williams said, noting that the maximum credit allowed by law is $500.
Resident Dan LaPan, sitting in the bleachers, raised his hand. He asked how many veterans were in Plainfield.
Williams answered: “109 veterans.”
“I would like to amend the motion,” LaPan answered, “to make it $500.”
His amendment passed, 141-9. The main motion went through unanimously.
Jon Wolper can be reached at email@example.com or 603-727-3248.