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Chelsea Ready To Construct Town Garage

Proposed Budget Decreases, But Amount Needed in Taxes May Rise

Chelsea’s School District Meeting will be held March 4, at 9 a.m. at Chelsea Town Hall. Town Meeting will follow at Town Hall. Voting is from the floor.

Chelsea — After two decades of searching for a site townspeople could agree on, Chelsea is ready to build a new garage, and voters on Town Meeting day will consider two related articles.

On the school side, an increase in student enrollment means the proposed budget is 3 percent higher than the current spending plan.

Almost 90 years old, the town garage has a laundry list of problems, including a leaky roof, unsafe floors, poor insulation and mold issues.

“We need to move away from that building as soon as we can,” said Selectman Mike Button. “How can an employer in good conscience maintain a building that has mold in it?”

If approved, an article would transfer the money in the Timber Harvest Fund, about $73,000, to the Garage Fund, which currently contains about $210,000. Another article would allow the town to use the Garage Fund money for planning and development, and to purchase land, for the new garage.

In a special vote last fall, townspeople agreed more than 2 to 1 to spend $162,000 to purchase property on East Randolph Road for the new garage site, Button said.

“(The town) spent most of 20 years arguing about what to do,” he said. The vote was “an incredible step for this community to take.”

The project hasn’t been put out to bid — that will happen this spring — but one estimate set the cost at about $900,000 for the building and around $100,000 for site work, including septic, water and grading.

“Nobody on the Selectboard is happy with that number,” so they are researching ways to bring down the price, he said.

Not having any members with construction backgrounds places the Selectboard at a disadvantage, said Button, who hopes to hear suggestions from Chelsea residents who work in the building industries.

Construction is not a quick process, he said, but the Selectboard hopes to get the building in place this year. First, officials will need to answer all sorts of questions: How big should it be? Does the town want solar panels on the roof? How much are people are willing to spend?

The opinions, questions, comments and guidance Button expects to hear at Town Meeting “can’t come fast enough,” he said. “We need to know what this town wants.”

At $680,000, the amount to be raised by taxes to support the proposed town budget is about $32,000 lower than last year. That’s because First Branch Ambulance Service, using a 12-month budget, needed less money this year, and because the plan does not include two expenses that have been there in the past: money paid to people who pay their taxes early and funds for road resurfacing and paving.

For at least the third year running, Town Meeting will include a look at Chelsea’s tradition of awarding a 2 percent refund to early bird taxpayers. To highlight the issue, the Selectboard omitted from the proposed budget the estimated $25,000 that would normally be refunded. The refund dates back to when the town “was paying through the nose” for short-term financing, but with lower interest rates has outlived its usefulness, Button said.

If voters decide to continue the refund, the Selectboard would raise taxes by $25,000, he said. “You’re pushing that to the disadvantaged in the community, and if you’re OK with that, vote yes.”

Another article asks to establish a paving and resurfacing fund, using $30,000 to be raised in taxes.

Higher health insurance premiums and the rising price of sand and gravel, “the same problems every municipality struggles with,” are among the challenges the Selectboard faced when creating the budget, he said.

This year’s budget will not be affected by an upcoming townwide reappraisal. Money has already been raised to pay for the project, which is expected to take place over a period of 18 months. “That’s going to be interesting,” Button said. “We’ve got a lot of old property, and it’s gone down in value over the past eight years.”

Despite the lower town budget, the amount to be raised through taxes to support it is expected to be higher this year. That amount last year was about $648,000; this year, it is estimated at $680,000. That’s because, pending the passage of an article at Town Meeting, the town will no longer use additional cash to offset taxes. Instead, it hopes to use the money to support the road resurfacing fund and “create a buffer” to absorb unanticipated expenses, the Selectboard said in its report.

Last year’s town tax rate, including the budget and warrant articles, was about 54 cents on $100 of appraised value, Button said, but he couldn’t project a tax rate for the proposed spending plan. “That’s nothing more than a factor of our grand list” and the budget and warrant articles approved at Town Meeting.

The proposed 2014-2015 school budget of almost $3.3 million represents an increase of about $97,000, or 3 percent, over the current budget. The increase is due to rising health and dental premiums and higher student enrollment, which means the school pays more to Orange Windsor Supervisory Union.

The budget also includes a raise of up to 3 percent for support staff, money for new texts and other teaching resources, and $4,900 for a new summer program.

If the spending plan passes, the projected tax rate would be $1.51 per $100 of assessed value for homeowners who don’t qualify for Vermont’s income sensitivity program, up about 3 cents from the current rate. That would bring an increase of $75 on a $250,000 house.

Like Button, Schoolboard Chairman Joe Spinella is looking forward to Town Meeting conversations.

As difficult as it can be to make the meeting, “I definitely urge people to attend,” Spinella said. “The more people who show up ... and let their voices be heard and their votes be counted, that’s how Town Meeting works best.”

Schoolboard seats held by Kylie Eastman and Emily Marshia, and a seat on the Selectboard held by Jack Johnson, are up for election. Voting is from the floor.

Aimee Caruso can be reached at acaruso@vnews.com or 603-727-3210.