Fairlee Sought Modest Budget, And Got It

Town Proposes Nearly 13 Percent Less Spending Than Last Year

Fairlee Town Meeting will be held Tuesday, March 4 at 10 a.m. at the Samuel Morey Elementary School Gymnasium to act upon 12 warning articles, including approval of the town’s operating and highway budgets. Nominations to town offices will be taken from the floor.

FairleeAfter the town budget increased nearly 20 percent last year, the Selectboard went into the 2014 budgeting process with a certain mantra: Take it easy.

“We really encouraged the departments to really be careful about their budgeting this year … because we spent so much money and we had so much going on last year,” said Chairwoman Mary Daly. “Plus we knew that people’s statewide property taxes were going up. I think it was just everybody being careful.”

The outcome: a proposed overall budget that is down to $847,381.

As a result, the municipal tax rate for 2014 is projected to drop from about 42 cents per $100 of assessed value to 41.5 cents. The new tax rate would mean a $1,025 annual tax bill on a home assessed at $250,000, down $25 from last year.

Some of the savings can be attributed to the state’s new health exchange, which decreased town employee health insurance costs, and measures such as insulating town buildings, which is expected to save on heating costs, Daly said.

Several long-deferred paving projects that contributed to the ballooning 2013 budget have been completed, therefore cutting back on costs, as well.

Still, Daly said there is more roadwork to be done, including paving dirt portions of Mountain Road and repaving other sections. That work accounts for a proposal to raise and spend $45,000 in the capital budget, Daly said.

Fairlee also has a warning article seeking an appropriation of up to $20,000 to conduct an engineering study of about a one-mile stretch of Lake Morey Road East.

Daly said the request to fund the study stems from a dispute with a landowner over drainage along the road. One of the resolutions to emerge from ensuing mediation, Daly said, calls for the town to ask voters if they would fund the study.

“We just need to look and see if we’ve done due diligence at this point, and also to see if there is a solution to the problems on that road,” she said. “We may just need to keep working at it the way we’ve been.”

In other town affairs, several new ideas are “going to have to be held off” as the Planning Commission continues working toward a new town plan. Daly said the commission has been gathering input from residents as it develops the plan, which will ultimately have to be signed-off by the Selectboard.

At that point, the town would work to adapt the zoning regulations to the new town plan, Daly said.

“And certainly this whole issue with the Dollar General is highlighting some of the issues around that,” she said, referring to the national chain’s proposed construction of a store on Route 5 in town.

Daly said she expects people to voice opinions about the town’s zoning laws during the “other business” portion of the meeting, which she said is “a good a time as any for people to give feedback .”

She noted that voters will not be able to accept or reject the Dollar General application, which is under the purview of the Development Review Board, but that they could share their general views and perhaps introduce more general motions.

Daly said members of a Tri-Town Committee who are tasked with finding solutions to the ailing Lake Fairlee Dam had hoped to put bonds before the voters in Fairlee, West Fairlee and Thetford, which share the lake’s shoreline, but that did not come together in time for this year’s Town Meeting.

Fairlee takes nominations from the floor on Town Meeting day, when 18 town office positions will be up for election.

Selectman David Colby said he is seeking reelection to a three-year seat. Colby served on the board in the 1980s and returned two years ago to take over for Tim Cramer.

“I think I’m of some help to the board,” said Colby, a contractor, noting that his professional background in housing, building and construction has been of assistance during Selectboard deliberations.

Daly agreed that Colby has been “such a valuable member” of the trio, which also includes longtime Selectman Frank J. Barrett, Jr.

Daly and Colby said they were unaware of any challengers for the Selectboard seat or of any contested elections — though “you never know,” Daly added.

Fairlee is part of the Rivendell Interstate School District, which will hold school elections and determine its tax rate at its annual meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 18, at the Rivendell Academy gym.

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

CLARIFICATION

If all municipal articles on the Fairlee warning are approved at Town Meeting, the amount to be raised by taxes would total $847,381, resulting in an estimated tax rate of 41.5 cents per $100 of valuation. That would be a decrease of a penny from 2013 taxes, or a $25 reduction in municipal taxes on a $250,000 home. Budget figures and the estimated tax impact reported in an earlier version of this story did not account for money the Selectboard has included in the proposed capital budget.