Tunbridge May Evaluate Safety Service Groups

Proposed Committee Comes After String of Fall Robberies

Tunbridge’s School Meeting will be held on Monday, March 4, at 7:30 p.m. at Tunbridge Central School to act upon six warning articles. Tunbridge Town Meeting will be held in the school at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, March 5, to consider 12 warning articles.

Tunbridge — Last year’s Tunbridge Town Meeting took on controversial charges concerning the role and performance of the First Branch Ambulance and Rescue, based in Chelsea. In contrast, this year’s meeting looks to be fairly straight forward, said Selectwoman Ingrid Van Steamburg.

In partial response to last year’s discussion, but also in reaction to concern expressed by residents over last fall’s string of robberies and break-ins, Van Steamburg said, the Selectboard has created an Emergency Services Committee to evaluate current fire, ambulance and police coverage. This is one of the topics that will be discussed at Town Meeting, she said, in addition to laying out the budget.

The proposed town budget for fiscal year 2014 is $885,133, an increase of $145,331, or 19.6 percent, over fiscal 2013 year. The municipal tax rate of 46 cents per $100 of valuation is estimated to increase to 54 cents, which would add approximately $200 to a property valued at $250,000.

The increase in the budget is partially due, said Van Steamburg, to a decrease in the town surplus, from $80,000 last year to a projected surplus of $8,547. Projected appropriations have increased in the areas of wages and benefits, among other expenses, according to the town report. Auditor Becky Hoyt explained that there is less money in the budget “to draw from so we have to pull more from the town.”

Two-term Selectman Thomas Mullen will step down at the end of his term and doesn’t plan to run again. There are no known contenders for the position. The two other Selectboard members, Chairman Bob Dunkle and Van Steamburg, are still serving their terms.

A number of offices are up for election, including one lister, two auditors, one cemetery commissioner and two library trustees. Treasurer Anne Fragnella, who was appointed this January after the previous treasurer resigned, will run for the post. Nominations for town offices are made from the floor.

The school meeting, said School Board Chairwoman Lorinda Oliver, will look at such chronic issues as the cost of special and secondary education, and health care. The proposed budget for FY14 is a bit more than $3 million, an increase of $191,813, or 6.7 percent, over last year’s budget. Much of the rise can be attributed to the cost of both secondary and special education, perennial areas of concern.

This is the second year, said Oliver, that the Orange-Windsor Supervisory Union has special education as part of its budget, rather than assigning it to the town budget, meaning that the cost of students is spread out over a wider base. Enrollment is up, from 114 students last year to 120 this year, which is good news, said Oliver. But, she noted, the town has had “an influx of students requiring special ed. It’s up about 10 percent, which is certainly significant. And we’re required to provide services for those students no matter what.”

Health care expenses have also ratcheted up, said Oliver, and it’s possible that next year the School Board will look to switch providers.

Looking at the future of the school, said Oliver, the board has identified areas of concern, including the implementation of the Common Core curriculum and its testing program, which is done on computers.

“That’s huge when you look at our rural communities,” said Oliver, pointing to the fact that not all schools have computers for children, and the reality of intermittent high-speed internet connection. “We not only have to have availability to computers on those specific (testing) dates but have (students) prepared to do them.”

There is one opening on the School Board. The seat is currently held by Amy Frost, who was appointed last year when the previous board member stepped down; Frost will run at this year’s Town Meeting for a three-year term. Because the learning curve in the position was steep, she said, she wants to continue to work on the board. “With the new principal (Rick Talbot) we’ve made a lot of progress and I want to continue with that,” Frost said.

There are no special articles on the warning concerning gun control or the rights of nature, as there are in some other nearby towns.

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