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Piermont Mulls Creating Town Website

Piermont Town Meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 12, with voting for town officers by ballot from 10 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. in the Old Church Building. Voters will decide on the budget and other warrant articles when the meeting reconvenes at 7:30 p.m. at Piermont Village School. Residents will meet on Tuesday, March 19, at 7:30 p.m. at the school to vote on the Piermont School District warrant.

Piermont — A website and an emergency operations center are among the smaller proposed articles cost-wise, but town officials say they could make a big difference in Piermont’s ability to communicate with residents. The projects are among several voters will consider at Town Meeting, along with a proposed town operating budget that is up by about 4 percent over last year.

Selectboard Chairman Bob Lang said creating a town website could lead to improved communication and “better governing.”

It would allow Piermont to post information, including meeting agendas, online, and residents could eventually use it to conduct business, such as registering their vehicles, Lang said. The warrant article asks for $2,500 to set up the website. A similar request for money to create a website was turned down at Town Meeting a few years ago.

Another article asks to raise almost $20,000 to buy equipment to create an emergency operations center for the town. The center would be based in the meeting room at the Old Church Building on Route 10. The equipment, such as computers and radios, could be secured and rolled out of the way, Lang said, allowing the room to continue to be used for Selectboard meetings and other town business. Piermont would pay for half of the project costs, with the remainder covered by a matching grant.

During Hurricane Sandy, Piermont set up an emergency response center in the fire department. Fortunately, the town escaped damage during Sandy and Tropical Storm Irene, but it won’t be lucky forever, Lang said.

“You’ve got to prepare for these things before the fact,” he said. “Hopefully, when a real emergency comes, we will be prepared.”

The largest article calls for almost $313,000 to upgrade a culvert on Indian Pond Road to a bridge, as recommended by a recent engineering study. No new taxes would be raised to support the project. Instead, it would be funded by a $235,000 hazard mitigation grant, a $63,000 grant from the state Department of Transportation and $16,000 from the town’s fund balance.

Others articles call for a lease of a police car and a plow truck. Both leases contain an “escape clause,” which would allow the town to discontinue the agreements. Should the articles pass, the town would pay almost $147,000 over a seven-year period for the truck, with an initial payment of about $23,000. The police car would cost $37,000 over the course of the five-year lease, with an initial payment of about $8,000.

The town’s only police car has more than 100,000 miles on it and is frequently in need of repairs, Lang said.

Jennifer Collins, assistant to the Selectboard, said the plow “is not in the best shape.”

“You can see daylight in several places, according to our road agent,” she said.

The proposed operating budget of just over $905,000 is up by about $36,000 over last year. The increase is due largely to the cost of replacing equipment — a furnace for the Fire Department and a copier for the town — and an increase in ambulance service fees and worker’s compensation insurance. The road agent and police chief were recently made full time positions; they were previously contracted and part time, respectively.

Under the proposed budget, the amount to be raised by taxes would increase by just over 7 percent, from $815,000 to about $873,000. The town’s current tax rate is $6.47 per $1,000 of appraised value.

Lang, 66, has served on the board for 21 years. This year, he is running uncontested for what he says will be his last term.

“It’s time for younger people to get involved in town affairs,” said Lang, who is confident in his fellow selectmen. “With another three years’ experience, both of those gentlemen will probably pretty well know the ins and outs of things.”

Before joining the Selectboard, he served on the planning board. Now a postal worker, he was a teacher and administrator at Piermont Village School for 12 years.

“I’ve got two grandchildren,” he said. “You’ve got to live a little.”

For the second year running, the proposed school budget is lower than the previous year. Should the budget pass, taxpayers would see a drop in the tax rate, currently $14.07, to $13.41 per $1,000 of assessed value. The tax bill for a $250,000 home would drop $165, to $3,352.

“It’s good times right now,” said Bruce Labs, superintendent of schools for SAU 23.

With fewer students entering high school next year, the school district will pay less tuition, Labs said. There are also fewer special education students and placements expected in the 2013-2014 school year.

The proposed $1.8 million spending plan represents a decrease of about $280,000 from the current budget.

In addition to the school budget, voters will decide on several warrant articles. Two of the articles seek to use money from the year-end undesignated trust fund to beef up the special education and tuition expendable trust funds by $20,000 and $5,000, respectively. The funds would be used as a buffer, in case of unanticipated expenses.

“If we end up having to send somebody out to a special school or a residential school, you can go through quite a bit of money in a short period of time,” Labs said.

And should a big class enter the school or several high school students move into town, the tuition trust expendable fund could be tapped.

“We usually build in a contingency,” Labs said, “but we’d like to be prepared.”

Another article seeks to give the school board the option to retain money from its year-end unassigned general funds. Under a newly revised state law, districts can retain a portion of the money, up to 2.5 percent of their net assessment, to address emergency expenditures and over expenditures or reduce the tax rate. The net assessment is the amount raised locally in school taxes, including money raised locally from the state-wide education property tax.

Should the measure pass, it would allow the school board to determine at the end of each year whether to return or retain the money. In Piermont, the allowable amount for the year ending June 30 would be about $34,000.

Abigail Metcalf Underhill is chairwoman of the three-person Piermont School Board. Her term ends this year, and she will run uncontested in March for a three-year term. She has served on the board for six years and has two elementary school children in the district.

Underhill said she hopes to “keep the budget under control” and continue the school moving in its current direction.

“Overall, our standardized test scores are well above state average,” she said. “We have a great staff, a very seasoned and experienced staff, and our kids are just really wonderful.”

Aimee Caruso can be reached at acaruso@vnews.com or 603-727-3210.