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New Town Offices Proposed for Royalton

Royalton Town Meeting will be held on Tuesday, March 4, at 10 a.m. in the South Royalton High School Auditorium to act on warning articles. Voting by Australian ballot will be held from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. to elect town and school officers and decide on funding for a new town office building. The Royalton S chool District meeting will be held Monday, March 3, at 6:30 p.m. in the South Royalton Gymnasium to act on warning items. Childcare will be provided.

South Royalton — Although voters are being asked to approve a bond of up to $600,000 for the construction of a new town office building on the site of the old Herb Crawford’s Auto Land on Route 14, town taxes are not expected to increase.

Town officials are currently using three separate buildings to house town offices and the police department, and they say the facilities are crowded and in need of repair.

In addition, the town and highway budgets are only slightly higher and require no tax increases. On the school side, funding for the local district is down from last year, although taxpayers will see an increase in school taxes being passed on to towns from the state.

The cost of the new town offices, however, won’t raise taxes. The town already owns the Crawford property, which has undergone an environmental clean up, and the cost of repaying the bond will be offset by savings from the use of a gravel pit at the rear of the property. The highway department is currently buying its gravel from another site, Selectboard Chairman Larry Trottier said.

Plans for the proposed new offices have been scaled down from the building that was under consideration last year, Trottier said, noting that town officials are hoping to construct a modular building of about 5,000 square feet that could be expanded in the future to accommodate the rescue squad, fire and police departments. Rent for the current police department offices costs the town $10,000 a year.

Last year, the town was weighing a plan to remodel the existing 10,000-square-foot Crawford building at a cost of about $1.5 million. Now, officials hope that the existing metal building might be purchased by someone who would move it and use it on another site, Trottier said.

“We’re in the unique situation that we own the Crawford property free and clear, and with what we save on using the gravel from there, we won’t increase taxes to build the building. This is something that we should have done 50 years ago.”

To amortize a $600,000 bond will cost about $69,000 a year, and the savings on the gravel will be about $75,000 a year, he said. Voters will decide the question of the building and who will serve in the contested town and school offices by Australian ballot.

“We thought putting the town offices on the Australian ballot would give us a better cross section of the town than just putting it in a warning article for the few people who show up to just vote up or down,” Trottier said.

The proposed town budget for the coming year is up $12,374 to just over $1.01 million of which $703,609 will be raised from taxes. Because of increases in fuel and materials, the proposed $1.05 million highway budget is $17,500 or 1.7 percent, higher than last year.

Voters also will be asked to approve $258,810 for organizations serving Royalton. The proposal includes a $2,100 increase for the rescue squad and $1,000 more for the library. Requested funds for social service agencies are $21,160, which is $100 less than last year.

Despite the School Board’s efforts to maintain the quality of education offered at the Royalton schools and hold the cost down — the proposed school budget of $6 million is 0 .68 percent less than last year — the Legislature raised the state base education rate by 7 cents per $100 of assessed value, School Board Chairman Tim Murphy said.

That increase will mean that property taxes for a $250,000 home will go up about $17.50 a year for those homeowners who don’t qualify for Vermont’s income sensitivity program if the school budget is approved.

During a special meeting last May, Royalton voters trimmed $137,000 from the school budget, and, as a result, officials made reductions in administrative assistant hours, athletics and funding for an eighth grade trip to Washington, D.C..

They also eliminated a permanent substitute position as well as the family and consumer sciences program. This year’s $6 million budget maintains those cuts, Murphy said.

“We really worked hard to make sure that we weren’t hurting the students but at the same time keeping the taxpayers’ interests in mind,” he said.

In addition to deciding the fiscal plans, voters will choose between candidates for three contested town offices and one school board seat.

Selectman Phil Gates is facing challenger Charles Bascom for a three-year seat, and Selectman Ernie Amsden isn’t seeking reelection and is likely to be replaced by Sandy Conrad, who isn’t being challenged for the two-year seat. Conrad works for the Southwestern Vermont Council on Aging and led the effort to reconsider the school budget last year that resulted in the cuts.

Town Clerk Karmen Bascom, who has served for two years, is being challenged by former assistant clerk Pamela Levasseur. She resigned from her job in the clerk’s office in January and is working part-time for the Selectboard and in the Treasurer’s office.

Theresa Harrington, who is retiring as Town Treasurer, is running against Samantha Prior for Collector of Delinquent Taxes. The position is significant because the town has outstanding balances of almost $400,000 in delinquent taxes, and officials are considering holding tax sales to recoup some of the money that is owed, according to the minutes from the Jan. 28 Selectboard meeting.

“That’s quite a bit of money, and something that we really need to get a handle on,” Trottier said.

School Board member Laurie Smith is being challenged by Kimberly Hebard for a two-year seat.

Royalton’s pre-Town Meeting is on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Royalton Academy Building. The meeting will open with a special hearing for the town office bond vote. The school meeting will follow the town’s business.

Warren Johnston can be reached at wjohnston@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.