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Royalton Will Build Offices

Royalton — Voters on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed a bond of up to $600,000 to construct a new town office building on the old Crawford Auto Land property on Route 14, a key step in the plan to move town employees from a scattering of offices, including cramped quarters in the basement of the library.

In town and school elections, incumbents held off challenges for Selectboard, School Board and town clerk, and the town treasurer earned an additional title as the collector of delinquent taxes.

During the floor meeting at South Royalton High School earlier in the day, voters easily approved a $1 million operating budget and a $1 million highway budget.

They also waved through appropriations totaling nearly $259,000 for town organizations and more than $21,000 for area nonprofits.

Although spending is up slightly, the current municipal tax rate — which, including both the general and highway budgets, is about 61 cents per $100 of valuation — is not expected to rise, as spending is offset by new revenue, including increased collections of delinquent taxes.

Furthermore, Selectboard members have said that the use of a gravel pit behind the Crawford lot would offset the cost of the bond for the relocated town offices, as the town previously had to buy the material elsewhere. Officials hope to build a 5,000 square foot “bare bones” building that could be expanded in the future to accommodate the rescue squad, fire and police departments.

To amortize the bond will cost about $66,000 a year, and the savings on the gravel will be about $72,000 a year, according to an information sheet distributed by the board.

As he left the floor meeting Tuesday morning, Jim Abbott, 56, gave a thumbs up sign when asked about the bond, voting for it because library and town workers are “sorely, sorely in need of space,” he said.

He grew up in town and can’t remember the town offices ever being located elsewhere. This is the right time for town offices to move out from the library basement, he said, as the town already has the Route 14 property, which has undergone an environmental cleanup, and the tax rate won’t be impacted.

“It just makes sense,” he said.

Moments earlier, Russ Patton, 38, said he was leaning against voting for the bond.

Although there was much discussion when a similar proposal was pitched by the town last year, he said he was bothered by the lack of discussion this year. Selectboard Chairman Larry Trottier brought up the vote during the “other business” portion of Monday’s school meeting, which Patton didn’t attend, but it was not broached Tuesday morning.

Although Patton noted that “$600,000 is a lot of money to put toward something” even if it wouldn’t affect taxes, his greater question was whether the site, which is across the White River from South Royalton’s downtown area, was too out of the way.

“The taxes aren’t an issue, it’s more of whether this is going to be the best” site for town offices, he said.

The article passed during Australian ballot voting Tuesday, 332-126.

In races, Town Clerk Karmen Bascom maintained her seat, defeating a challenge from her former assistant clerk, Pamela Levasseur, 273-171. Levasseur has been working part-time in the Selectboard’s and treasurer’s offices since resigning from the assistant position in January.

Those in attendance at the floor meeting spent about 30 minutes untangling proper procedure for editing the minutes after Levasseur’s sister, Jo Levasseur, challenged the quality and accuracy of Bascom’s minutes from the 2013 Town Meeting.

Selectman Phil Gates held off a challenge from Charlie Bascom, who is Karmen Bascom’s husband. The tally was 257-179.

Sandy Conrad, who was running unopposed, was elected to a two-year seat on the board. Conrad led an effort in summer 2013 to amend the school budget to be level funded.

School Board incumbent Laurie Smith held off Kimberly Hebard, 243-181.

The collector of delinquent taxes post went to Theresa Harrington, who defeated Samantha Prior, 380-61. The role is significant because the town had outstanding balances of almost $400,000 as of last month, although that number has decreased.

Harrington was also re-elected to town treasurer, a position for which she was unopposed.

Also at the meeting, residents showed narrow support, in a 74-59 standing vote, in favor of asking the state Legislature to explore the creation of a public state bank, a measure that appeared on several warnings around the state.

“What caught my attention was the amount of money that would remain in the state,” Suzanne Long said during discussion. She pointed to fees that banks charge businesses for accepting debit and credit cards, such as at the co-operative South Royalton Market, totaling thousands of dollars that go out of state.

Dick Ellis spoke against the measure as he’s “noticed that everything that the state or federal government takes over is a mess,” he said.

Alison Gravel agreed that the government is sometimes known as “evil.”

“But I don’t think that Wall Street or the banks are any less evil, because what happened to our economy is the result of that,” she said.

In the “other business” portion of the meeting, Dan Kinney, who lives a quarter-mile off Route 14 on Post Farm Road, urged action on bringing high-speed Internet to homes like his, which have yet to be connected, despite his efforts.

In addition to a negative effect on property values, he said, the situation forces him to rent an office outside town for his business, and his daughter sits idling her car on the town green to get Internet access for certain homework projects.

“If you have it, don’t just sit back and surf the web. Help us that don’t,” Kinney said. “I need it to do my business, my kids need it to be successful in school. It’s 2014. Please help.”

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

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