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West Fairlee Faces 12% Budget Rise

The West Fairlee Town Meeting will be held on at 10 a.m. Saturday, March 2 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 on Tuesday, March 5 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the Community Building.

West Fairlee — The town will ask voters next month to approve a warning article allowing renovations to the Community Building and the purchase of a new vault, plus an operating budget up 12 percent over the current year.

If approved, the measure would allow town officials to borrow up to $200,000 for the vault and initial phase of renovations to the building, which West Fairlee has used as town offices following the condemnation of Bean Hall in the mid-2000s.

Renovations would include fixing structural issues in the building, adding a partition in the multi-purpose room to create a more secure environment for the town clerk and constructing a shed roof along the edge of the building to ease icing issues in the winter, said Selectboard Chairwoman Delsie Hoyt. Voters shot down a bond last summer to fund a single-phase approach to the entire project, which was budgeted for $575,000 but could have qualified for grants to offset the cost, Hoyt said.

West Fairlee is in the midst of an ongoing reappraisal process to be finished in April with results ready in July, and any resulting changes to the Grand List have the potential to affect the tax rate. It’s a toss-up whether the Grand List may increase or decrease, thereby increasing or decreasing the tax rate, Hoyt said.

“That’s one of those wildcards in terms of how this will all come together,” Hoyt said.

Assuming all else equal, the 12 percent proposed increase to the budget would equate to a 10-cent jump per $100 of assessed value. The current municipal tax rate is 75 cents per $100 of assessed value, and adding another 10 cents would mean the municipal property tax on a $250,000 home would be $2,125, up $250 from the current year.

But, she said, the time to hesitate is through. In addition to the Community Building article — the largest and most atypical on this year’s warning — the town has proposed a budget that is decreased or nearly level in almost every way, save for a $41,000 increase in contributions to the capital reserve fund.

The $151,00 in proposed total contributions to the reserve includes a $10,000 jump in contributions to Community Building funds (up to $40,000) and a $20,000 increase in contributions to a fund for highway projects (up to $90,000).

“The budget very much reflects the longer term needs of the town,” Hoyt said, adding that West Fairlee created a capital reserve only within the past five years. “So, going in, we really tried to toe the line on the regular expenses.”

She later added: “Over the next five years, we have $750,000 worth of paving that should be undertaken because we have deferred saving for it. ... We waited for state grants to come around and those are fewer and far between. We can’t rely on the grants to be our paving budget; we have to do some of it ourselves. It’s a kick in the teeth to see that in black and white. The more you defer, the more expensive it gets.”

There are no contested races for town office. Selectman Fred Cook is up for reelection, and Hoyt said the board has been unable to spark interest in somebody running for an empty fifth seat.

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