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Rivendell District Passes Budget, Asbestos Abatement Project

Orford — The Rivendell Interstate School District’s $9.5 million proposed budget didn’t face too much opposition last night, as voters passed the spending plan, 149-40.

By voice, they also approved borrowing $495,000, for an asbestos abatement project, as well as $50,000 to be put in a capital needs reserve fund.

The asbestos money, which only received a smattering of “no” votes, will be used for a project that will take place predominately in the Memorial Hall gym and the immediately surrounding rooms. The reserve funds will be used for maintenance around the district, including replacing aging oil tanks.

With the budget, asbestos project bond and capital improvement fund balance all officially passed, Orford residents can expect to pay the most of the four towns in annual school taxes. The owner of a $200,000 property in Orford would pay $4,014. West Fairlee residents with property at the same value will pay $3,945, Vershire residents will pay $3,669 and Fairlee residents will pay $3,341.

The 2014 budget represents an increase of $88,000, or 0.6 percent, over the current year’s budget. The largest single increase is $108,000 for increased health insurance premiums.

But regardless of the large show of support for the budget, a few residents on the New Hampshire side of the district expressed concern with their rising taxes.

“I am not pleased with this budget,” said Terry Harwood, an Orford resident since 1997, adding that high taxes in all four towns are preventing people from moving to the area. “Frankly, I think we can do a lot more to cut expenses.”

He was met with opposition by Nancy Murphy, who works for — and sent her children through — the district.

“The kids are getting a wonderful education,” she said. “Your money is very well spent.”

The tax issue stings hardest in Orford. Residents of the town — the only New Hampshire representative in the four-town district — have spoken out against the fact that they have to pay higher school taxes than their Vermont brethren, especially considering the Green Mountain State has been suffering from a more pronounced enrollment problem.

“We’ve just grown, gotten more enrollment in Orford than other towns,” said Cicely Richardson, a School Board member who represents Orford, when the issue was briefly brought up last night. “It’s all based on student count, which seems like the fairest way to split it.”

As of mid-February, for instance, 86 of Rivendell Academy’s 222 students were from Orford. The next highest tally was 58 from Fairlee.

But the district is not immune to the lagging enrollment that has hit the Twin States hard over the past few years, especially Vermont.

During the 2009-2010 school year, the district had 507 students. This year, it has 482. However, outgoing School Board Chairwoman Sandra Smith-Ordway said last night that projections done for the board in 2006 said the district would have 60 less students this year than it actually does.

“Yes, we’re still seeing a decline, but not to what was projected,” Smith-Ordway said.

Results for the School Board elections, which were conducted by Australian ballot before, during and after the meeting, were not immediately available last night; however, none of the seven open positions were contested .

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.