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Strafford Aims At Gun Control

Strafford Town Meeting will be held on Tuesday, March 5, at 10 a.m. in the Town Hall to act upon eight warning articles. The school meeting will be held in the Town Hall on the same day at 1 p.m. to consider six warning articles. All officers are elected from the floor.

Strafford — In the aftermath of the shootings in December at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., Strafford voters at this year’s Town Meeting will tackle the charged issue of gun control.

If it passes, Article 6 on the Town Meeting warning would direct state and federal lawmakers to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, make gun trafficking a federal crime, with real penalties for “straw purchasers” and require a criminal background check with the purchase of every new gun.

“It’s a way for us at the local level to be able to say we want something done and that if legislators do something along the lines of gun control or gun restriction we will still elect them,” said Therese Linehan, the organizer of the petition to put gun control on the warning, one of several Upper Valley towns expected to debate the issue. “We just want to say we’ve got a voice, too.”

The town budget for fiscal year 2014 is a proposed $914,007, which represents an increase over last year of $17,191 or 1.9 percent. Last year’s tax rate of 50 cents per $100 of valuation will increase to an estimated 52 cents, Selectboard Chairman Stephen Willbanks said via email. “This will add about $20 per $100,000 of property value or $50 to a property valued at $250,000,” he wrote.

Twelve town offices will be up for election, including a three-year term for lister, a three-year term for auditor, a one-year term for another lister and a seat on the Selectboard, which is being vacated by Willbanks after 21 years on the board. Nominations are made from the floor.

Willbanks is retiring after this year’s Town Meeting because, he said, “I have some other things that I want to do and won’t be able to do if I get caught up in the administrative stuff. It seemed like a good time to step aside.” Willbanks knows of no one who wants to run for the empty seat.

The town is in good financial health overall, he said, considering that it is still dealing with the damage caused in 2011 by Tropical Storm Irene, and the often burdensome requirements of filing paperwork with the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Over the last four years, paving and road reconstruction and repair projects have tallied $5.25 million, which, with the 10-year highway reconstruction and disaster relief fund, will result in a total expenditure in property taxes of approximately $1.5 million.

Article 7 on the warning is a Rights-of-Nature article that proposes that the natural environment of Vermont has natural, inherent and unalienable rights and that voters will have legal recourse to sue for nature’s rights if they believe them to have been violated, although the article is not specific about how that would be accomplished. Other towns considering this article include Norwich and Thetford.

Its origin lies in the controversial Citizens United Supreme Court decision related to campaign spending in 2010, said Steve Marx, a Strafford resident who helped to draft the article’s language and circulate the petition. “If corporations have rights and people have rights, then let’s make it an even playing field,” and help insure that Vermont’s natural resources are protected, he said. If the article passes at Town Meeting, it will go to the Legislature, he said.

The school meeting convenes at 1 p.m. to vote the sum of more than $2.9 million for the support of the school for the fiscal 2014 year. The budget represents almost a 6.5 percent increase over last year’s budget of almost $2.8 million, or an increase of one cent per $100 of valuation on the tax rate, said School Board Chairwoman Nicole Kendall.

Also on the agenda is a vote to appropriate $7,829 for the Tyson Gym Maintenance Reserve Fund, an annual expenditure, and $75,923 for the Tuition Reserve Fund, which was established two years ago to lessen the impact on the school budget of secondary school costs.

“Secondary education is one of the highest costs in our town,” Kendall said, pointing out that the class sizes of the graduating 8th grades this year and next are relatively large: 17 in 2013 and 18 in 2014. The Tuition Reserve Fund will help to ensure that the budget doesn’t “bounce up and down year to year,” Kendall said. “We’d like to always have something in there.”

There will be three openings on the five-person school board: one School Director for a term of three years; one School Director for a term of two years; and one School Director for a term of two years (to complete an unexpired term when Erik Goodling stepped down from a three-year term). Terms are staggered between two and three years, Kendall said, so that there is consistency of people on the board.

One director, Paul Perkins, is running for his second two-year term. Kendall is stepping down after two terms: “I’ve worked hard and enjoyed it but I’m not running again.” One person, Hilary Linehan, has declared her interest in running for a seat because she said, she has three children in the school and “wants to ensure it continues to run well.”

Also of note: this is the first year that the town is offering the town report both electronically and by mail, said Kendall who, in addition to serving on the School Board, is also an assistant town clerk.

Nicola Smith can be reached at nsmith@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.

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