Hi 4° | Lo -12°

W. Fairlee Land Records To Go on Web

West Fairlee Town Meeting will be held on Saturday, March 1, at 10 a.m. in the Community Building for all warning articles not involving Australian ballot. Voters will choose town officers and vote on the budget by Australian ballot from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m on Tuesday, March 4, in the Community Building.

West Fairlee — As the Selectboard anticipates a straightforward Town Meeting next month — a level-funded budget, no unusual warning articles and a handful of uncontested races for town offices — town officials are touting the efforts of Town Clerk Rhonda Cook, whose work will propel West Fairlee to become the first town in the state with 50 years of archived land records available online.

“We’ve been getting through this renovation project and getting her back in her office,” said Selectboard Chairwoman Delsie Hoyt, referencing ongoing renovations to the Community Building, where Cook works, “but we’re going to have some sort of a celebration here in the spring and have some state folks who know how big this is come and celebrate this.”

The new online system represents a new $3,000 yearly expense in the budget for the contract with the hosting service to maintain and add new records to the system, and to allow people to enter debit or credit card information from their computers to access land records that previously had to be paid for in person at the town office, Hoyt said.

Cook has been working over the past 10 years to create a consolidated index of the town’s land records, which put West Fairlee ahead of the curve when the new technology became available, Hoyt said.

“It’s one of those things where it’s saving us in other ways. ... It takes into account some services that will be available online. There won’t be the same sort of hours required (in person),” Hoyt said. “The way things are headed, we’re very fortunate to have Rhonda.”

At $474,318, the proposed budget is about $700 less than the one approved last year.

The town is also seeking about $60,000 in appropriations, similar to those approved in years past.

The largest are $30,000 for the West Fairlee Volunteer Fire Department and $20,212 for the Upper Valley Ambulance.

Assuming no significant changes to the Grand List in April, the municipal portion of the tax rate is expected to remain at about 75 cents per $100 of assessed value, or about $1,875 on a $250,000 home.

“We’re in a good place, I think, at a sustainable level where we can still make progress,” Hoyt said.

Hoyt said the Selectboard was able to keep the budget level-funded through line-by-line cost-savings, such as contracting with a new recycling company, and by “reshuffling” the budget based on this year’s priorities.

For example, contributions to the Community Building capital reserve fund are set to decrease from $40,000 last year to $25,000 this year, but line items totaling about $53,700 will pay the first year and interest on a short-term loan for work that was done to the building last year. That included installing a new public records vault and a partition to separate Cook’s work area from the rest of the building and making structural repairs to the building.

Hoyt said the board hopes to use capital reserve funds this year to address rotting in some of the building’s walls and potentially to replace large old windows to reduce energy costs.

Hoyt said the board and townspeople are excited about the new recycling contract with Northeast Resource Recovery, which reduces the town’s recycling and solid waste expenses from $8,500 approved last year to an anticipated $2,000 this year.

The new contract is a two-stream system, meaning residents only have to sort out cardboard and paper from the rest of their recyclables, Hoyt said. Savings are generated because the contract is on a will-call basis, and the New Hampshire-based recycling firm will pay the town for its recyclables, Hoyt said.

“People love it,” she said.

Hoyt is up for reelection this year. West Fairlee currently has one seat open on its five-person Selectboard, and one member, Bev Ash, is not seeking reelection. Hoyt said the board has had trouble finding candidates interested in the two open seats.

West Fairlee is part of the Rivendell Interstate School District, which will hold school elections and determine its tax rate at its annual meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 18, at the Rivendell Academy gym.

Maggie Cassidy can be reached at mcassidy@vnews.com or 603-727-3220.