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Weathersfield Residents Approve Creation of Reserve Fund

Weathersfield — After a long debate accented by some confusion, residents last night voted 68-21 in favor of creating a reserve fund not to exceed 10 percent of the town’s annual general fund budget.

A second warning article to establish a highway reserve fund was rejected at the urging of the Selectboard. The board said such funds for highway budgets are not permitted under state law.

The approved reserve fund would help the town improve cash flow, especially in July before the first quarterly tax bill is due in August, Selectboard member John Arrison told the audience of about 90 residents.

“It will put us in a position of not having to borrow as much,” Arrison said. “When we borrow, it cost money.”

Some wondered why a special fund had to be created for the surplus instead of just keeping the money in the budget.

Board member Richard Clattenburg explained surpluses have to be returned back to taxpayers. The last few years, because of an aggressive delinquent tax collection policy, the town has built up its cash reserves and has used some of the money to avoid tax increases. But that revenue stream will eventually decrease, the board said and having a reserve account will help protect against significant swings in the budget and the tax rate.

“It is the only way to carry money forward to cushion ups and downs,” said Clattenburg. “We can’t sit on $250,000 year after year. But we can take an amount and stick it in a reserve fund. It does create a savings account for the town we otherwise wouldn’t have.”

During the long discussion, few expressed an opinion but rather asked for clarification and explanations.

Board member Dave Fuller, along with Mike Todd, voted against placing the article on the warning. Fuller told the voters that the town has sufficient cash on hand and voters should wait before creating a reserve fund.

“We don’t need to borrow money,” said Fuller, who urged voters to reject the article. “Money is in the bank so we can have a more thoughtful process.”

Town Meeting continues today with ballot voting from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Martin Memorial Hall.

Among the key issues to be decided are two contested races for Selectboard. Former board member and current town moderator Peter Cole is challenging incumbent Todd for a three-year term. In the other race, Clattenburg is up against challenger Alan Hudson for a two-year seat.

The proposed town budget of $1.11 million is up 4.4 percent from the current year’s, but with the use of the budget fund balance, the amount to be raised by taxes is down $31,000.

The highway budget is up $150,000 but that is offset by grants and a surplus. If the budget and $112,400 in separate warning articles pass as proposed, the town tax rate is projected to drop 0.7 cents to just under 60 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

Also on the ballot is a second attempt to gain voter approval for work at the former Perkinsville School. The town is asking voters to borrow $225,000 over five years to demolish the newer sections. Another $175,000 for the project would come from a grant.

The proposed school budget of $5.6 million represents an increase of nearly 10 percent, or $509,500, from the current year’s. The increase is attributable to a 14 percent jump in health insurance costs, a teachers contract that grants about a 2.5 percent pay increase and a higher assessment for the supervisory union costs.

Despite the spending jump, the homestead tax rate is projected to drop .5 cents to $1.67 per $100 of assessed valuation.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com.