Health Costs Drive Lyme Town Increase
Lyme — The proposed municipal budget is up by $50,000 this year, driven mostly by cost increases outside of the town’s purview.
“Basically, we’re running everything as lean as we can,” said Selectboard Chairman Simon Carr, who attributed the rise in the budget to the cost of health insurance for town employees, a “slight pay increase” and the need to still “provide the services that the citizens want.”
According to Carr, the increase in the $2 million budget would likely add about 15 cents to the town’s tax rate of $5.24 per $1000 of assessed value — or $38 for a home assessed at $250,000 — but that assumes that the revenue in the budget, which typically goes up, would remain unchanged.
Perhaps the most pressing issue in town is the need to address Lyme’s roads, which Carr said was being addressed by a number of warrant articles this year that would allow voters to pick and choose what projects they support. At last year’s town meeting, voters approved a $590,000 project to repair and rebuild a large section of River Road that had failed due to erosion from high water.
An article on this year’s warrant would authorize the town to spend $30,000 on an engineering study for a section of River Road, which Carr described as a sort of experiment in dirt road rehabilitation that would help town officials learn how to best minimize the weathering of roads as the seasons change. A separate article would set aside $35,000 for the repairing and rebuilding of a 1,000-foot section of Baker Hill Road.
Voters will decide the fate of zoning amendments that are being put forth by Liz Ryan Cole, a Vermont Law School professor and member of the Pinnacle Project LLC, which owns more than 110 acres along Route 10 as well as the 100-year-old Loch Lyme Lodge.
One amendment would allow for so-called “conservation neighborhoods,” which Ryan Cole described as “smart-growth” clustered housing with open space requirements.
The amendment is not recommended by the Planning Board, and Chairman David Roby described “conservation neighborhoods” as “an invitation to commercial developers to come into the town of Lyme and create plain, vanilla apartments or condominium projects.”
He said the Planning Board had been working with Ryan Cole and other sponsors of the amendment for several years to develop a “co-housing” amendment, but the language was changed “at the last minute” during a November Planning Board meeting.
“A lot of people in the town of Lyme are living on fixed incomes and are struggling to pay taxes already, and we’re very concerned that if this amendment passes and developers come into the town of Lyme, we’ll see a spike in school enrollment and a significant increase in taxes,” said Roby.
A separate zoning amendment would allow for the retail sale of products resulting from accessory use in Lyme’s rural East Lyme, Skiway, Mountain and Forest districts.
Also on the warrant are articles that would change the way the town manages its road agent and fire chief, which are more or less “lifetime appointments,” according to Carr.
One article would make the road agent a three-year appointment, and another would make the fire chief a five-year appointment.
There are no contested races on the Selectboard or the School Board this year, but a vacancy has opened up on the Planning Board as Roby has announced he plans to retire after several terms as the chairman.
Planning Board member Vicki Smith’s seat is also up, and she has filed to run again, meaning she will run for one of the two seats along with former Planning Board members Jack Elliot and Pete Swart.
As for Roby, he said he’s looking forward to not having to attend any more meetings.
“I’m 75 years old and I’m planning to live happily ever after,” he said.
Ben Conarck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3213.
This article has been amended to correct an earlier error. Loch Lyme Lodge and its surrounding land are owned by Pinnacle Project LLC, of which Liz Ryan Cole is one of 13 legal members. An earlier version of this story and one that ran on March 13, 2013, inaccurately described the ownership of the property.