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Fairlee Budget Approved, But Voters Reject Study of Lake Morey Road

Fairlee — Fairlee voters made quick work of town business, passing a town budget of nearly $743,000 and a highway budget of more than $207,500 without discussion in an hour-long Town Meeting on Tuesday.

But they also voted down an article on the warning that would have appropriated up to $20,000 for an engineering study of chronic road problems on Lake Morey Road East.

“A budget’s a budget — you’ve got to spend some money,” said Selectboard Chairwoman Mary Daly of the meeting’s rapid march through the 12 articles on the warning. The town budget will result in an estimated tax rate of 41.5 cents per $100 of valuation, 1 cent less than last year.

For a taxpayer, that will mean a $25 reduction in municipal taxes on a $250,000 home.

Daly said she was not surprised that the article calling for the study of road conditions on Lake Morey Road East, which provoked the most discussion, was defeated. “We expected that to be voted down,” Daly said. The road around Lake Morey is about five miles long, and although it is a continuous loop, the two sides of the road are referred to as Lake Morey Road East and West. The stretch of road in question is a little less than a mile long, Daly said.

The question of commissioning a study arose, Daly said, out of a complaint by a resident on Lake Morey Road East about drainage on the property. After mediation between the town and the property owner, Daly said, some repaving was done, but the larger issue is that the road itself “keeps slipping down the hill.”

The issue, Daly said, is whether the drainage problems come from the road’s engineering or from “Mother Nature.”

“What happens if we don’t do the study?” asked Cami Buster. If the road deteriorates, are properties along the lake in danger of sliding into Lake Morey, and if so, what would that mean for tax revenue in Fairlee?

“The road is the town’s responsibility,” said Mark Carter, who advocated for the study.

Other questions from voters included whether the proposed study had been put out to bid. It hadn’t, Daly said, because the board was waiting approval from the voters.

“It’s not just the road that’s unstable,” said Dan Ludwig, who spoke against the article.

After the meeting, Ludwig said that side of the lake backs up against shale ledges, which tend to disintegrate. “I question that (a study) would find anything but what’s already happening there. It’s not a great spot for a road,” he said. By a voice vote, the article was defeated.

Appropriations totaling nearly $21,000 for a number of local and state organizations, including the American Red Cross, the Clara Martin Center, Green Up Vermont, Little Rivers Health Care, the Orange County Diversion Program, Upper Valley Ambulance, the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, and the Visiting Nurse Service of Vermont and the New Hampshire Hospice of the Upper Valley, passed easily.

A request to authorize the Selectboard to accept and administer any federal, state or private grant money sailed through. The town accepted $20,000 in grant money from the Vermont Division for Historic Preservation to defray the cost of renovations to the Town Hall, Daly said.

In addition to passing about $207,500 for highway expenses with no discussion, voters also said yes to raising just over $172, 500 through property taxes for maintenance and improvements of town roads.

Voters also approved appropriating nearly $743,000 for the town budget, and to raise an additional $636,156 for town expenses and indebtedness through property taxes.

Rep. Sarah Copeland Hanzas, D-Bradford, Vt., spoke at the end of the meeting about the statewide estimated 7 cent increase in the school tax rate, because of a $47 million increase in school spending. Despite that large increase, she said, she has not heard much in the way of a wholesale push for changing how the state funds education. Copeland Hanzas, who serves on the House Health Care Committee, said the increases in health care costs are not sustainable and need to be addressed.

In contests for town offices, David Colby was re-elected to a three-year term on the Selectboard; Melissa Gahagan was re-elected to a three-year term as town treasurer; Russell Collins was re-elected to a three-year term as a lister; and Larry Martin was re-elected to a three-year term as auditor. Out of a checklist of 726 voters, 80 attended Town Meeting, but there is no move toward Australian ballot voting, said Martin, who also serves as a tree warden and fence viewer for the town.

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