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Fairlee May See Large Increase To Pave Roads

Town Operating Budget Could Rise 31 Percent to Cover Costs

Fairlee Town Meeting will be held Tuesday, March 5, at 10 a.m. at the Samuel Morey Elementary School Gymnasium to act upon 13 warning articles, including approval of the town’s general and highway operating budget. Nominations to town offices will be taken from the floor.

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Fairlee — Voters are faced with a proposed 18 percent increase in the town operating budget as Fairlee tries to catch up on long deferred paving and highway maintenance projects.

The town spent less than anticipated in 2012, and the difference between the town’s actual spending last year and the proposed $863,595 budget is even greater, at about 31 percent.

If approved, the budget would raise the municipal tax rate 7 cents to 42 cents per $100 of assessed value. For the owner of a $250,000 home, that translates into a $1,050 tax bill, an increase of $175 from 2012.

“Sorry to say,” Selectboard Chairwoman Mary Daly said of the need to pave roads and its impact on the tax rate. “That’s going to create some discussion.”

Revenues from grants and state highway funds are down from last year, while the town is also hoping to increase maintenance expenses in the highway budget.

But the biggest proposed increase related to road maintenance expenses is found in contributions to the capital reserve: The town hopes to add just over $168,000 to the capital reserve this year, including $154,000 for road-related projects.

That’s a significant increase from last year, when Fairlee added $113,000 to the capital reserve, including $67,500 for road-related projects.

Going into budget season, “the primary priority was paving roads … primarily because we’re getting behind and hadn’t done any paving in a while,” she said. The town has proposed spending about $125,000 out of the capital reserve’s Quinibeck Road rebuilding fund this year. Clubhouse Road, which runs in front of Lake Morey, and the adjacent Brennan Road, which runs along the Lake Morey Country Club, are also in immediate need of repaving, Daly said.

Plus, Daly said, there’s additional highway maintenance looming in the near future, such as culverts in need of repair on Terry Hill Road.

“We’re going to try to be more regular about the paving so it doesn’t get to be a big budget item all of the sudden,” she said. “But that’s one of the big drivers” of the budget increase.

Other increases are spread throughout the budget, such as a proposed contribution of $10,800 to the Lake Fairlee Association dam project, a joint effort by Fairlee, West Fairlee and Thetford to determine how to deal with the decaying Lake Fairlee dam, which sits in Thetford on privately owned property and is built underneath a camp house.

A preliminary $4,500 study financed last fall by the Aloha Foundation, which has extensive property on the lake, showed that “you have a serious problem; it’s not a matter of will the dam ever fail, it’s a matter of when,” said Selectman Frank J. Barrett Jr. Officials from the three towns fear that if the dam were to fail, it would drastically reduce the shoreline and have catastrophic results for lakeshore property values.

To add to contributions from the Aloha Foundation, other camps along the lake and the Lake Fairlee Association, each town is seeking voter approval to contribute to a $50,000 pot of “seed money” to fund an engineering study and other projects related to the dam, Barrett said. Those funds would finance an engineering study to recommend the best path moving forward, estimate the costs associated with that plan, and identify any related permitting issues. The funds could perhaps be put toward appraisal processes in the future.

“I think it’s going to require a little bit of salesmanship, because unless you’re in the weeds on this stuff, which most people aren’t, all of the sudden this stuff comes out of nowhere … $10,000 is an amount of money that catches people’s attention,” Barrett said. “It’s a difficult balancing act and none of us like asking for this money or paying for it any more than anyone else does, but the trick … is to try to bring everything along this year and not let anything fall too far behind. I know there are some people who feel … if we don’t talk about it, everything will be fine, we’ve got other things to be spending our money on,” but that’s not a responsible way to govern, he said.

Elsewhere in the budget, Daly said at least one resident has expressed frustration that the administration budget is too high. The town is proposing a bump to the town administrator’s hours and salary, but cuts to other lines in that area of the budget mean it is level from 2012.

“That position has been in flux,” Daly said of the town administrator position, which was created last year and filled by Laurent J. Veilleux. “No one really knew how much work, how much time was going to have to go into that. ... He’s earning his keep, that’s for sure.”

The board would like to increase the position, which was originally slotted for about 30 hours a week, to a full-time post, and increase the salary by about $10,000 to $41,600. Veilleux has filled in gaps left open by an unmanned recreation council, for example, by hiring lifeguards and running their background checks, and by completing unfinished projects like a hazardous waste group application.

“It’s important to have someone looking out for the town, and that’s what he’s doing, and he’s doing a great job,” Daly said.

Officials have also included a warning article seeking “a sum of money for improvements to the Town Hall,” which was flooded by a second-floor sprinkler early last month, forcing the town to temporarily move its operations to a rented space across the street. Daly said that insurance reimbursements should cover the cost of damage relating to the flood and rental costs, but that officials anticipate there may be issues with that building unrelated to the flood that “would be advantageous to fix while we’ve got it torn up.” They should have a better idea of those issues and the costs associated after a meeting on Monday, she said.

Fairlee takes nominationes from the floor on Town Meeting day. Barrett, who is finishing his 18th year on the board, and Selectman David Colby, who was appointed to fill a retiring board member’s seat, are up for reelection.

Former Selectman Ken Gulick, who did not run for reelection last year, told the Valley News at that time that he may consider running again in the future. A message left for Gulick at his home this week was not returned. Gulick had also led a movement last fall to try to repeal Fairlee’s zoning regulations by petitioning the town to add the question to the Nov. 6 ballot. That effort failed and the question does not appear on the Town Meeting warning, although Daly said the issue could potentially be brought up from the floor during the “other proper Town business” portion of the meeting.

Fairlee, which is part of the Rivendell Interstate School Distrcit, will hold school elections at the end of March, when the town will also determine its school tax rate.

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