Pomfret Voters to Weigh Higher Spending and Taxes at Town Meeting

Pomfret Town Meeting will be held Tuesday, March 5, at 9 a.m. at Town Hall. The school district portion is scheduled for 1 p.m. Australian balloting for the Woodstock Union High School budget Tuesday, March 5, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Pomfret Town Hall.

Pomfret — A new bridge near the Teago fire station and increased hours for the elementary school librarian are a couple of the items tucked into the proposed budgets that Pomfret voters will be asked to approve on Town Meeting Day.

If all town and school spending measures pass, the projected tax rate for residents is expected to jump from $1.95 to $2.04 per $100 of assessed value, an increase of more than 4 percent from a year ago. That would raise the property taxes on a $250,000 home to $5,100, an increase of $225. (The tax rate for nonresident property owners, which is partially set by the state, won’t be known until this summer.)

To cover town and highway expenses, including the replacement of the bridge in North Pomfret, the Selectboard is seeking to collect $887,263 in taxes ($306 more than last year) to support a proposed $1.9 million budget.

The bridge project is estimated to cost $275,000, but the state is picking up roughly $175,000 of the bill. The project includes $50,000 to upgrade and expand Library Street, which will be used as alternate route for the two months or so this summer that the new bridge is under construction.

Meanwhile, Pomfret is still in the process of settling up with the federal government over costs incurred in the rebuilding of roads and other infrastructure after Tropical Storm Irene hit in August 2011. Pomfret’s costs totaled slightly more than $1 million, with FEMA having so far provided $835,000 in reimbursements.

This year, Pomfret expects to receive $150,000 in additional federal money to cover Irene repairs that the town has already paid for. “We bit the bullet last year (paying bills up front), so we should reap the benefits this year,” said Selectboard Chairman Neil Lamson.

In other news leading up to Town Meeting, the town’s volunteer fire department has decided to put off buying a new fire truck. There was not enough money in the town’s reserve funds to cover the $360,000 price tag, Pomfret-Teago Fire Chief Kevin Rice wrote in the annual town report.

Pomfet’s two fire departments recently merged (A move the Vermont Secretary of State approved in December) and the consolidated department is now “taking a close look at what equipment it needs,” said Lamson.

In addition to appropriating $887,263 for the budget, voters will decide five other town spending measures that total a proposed $46,385, which is $3,800 more than a year ago. The biggest ticket item — $36,935 — would go to support Abbott Memorial Library.

If all the measures are approved, the Selectboard is estimating a town tax rate of 36 cents ­— for both residents and nonresidents — for the second year in a row.

On the education front, voters will be asked to allocate $31,349 more than it did at the 2012 Town Meeting for Pomfret’s K-6 school. The $1.2 million proposed budget, includes doubling the librarian’s salary from $11,808 to $23,616 as the position goes from one day to two days a week. The School Board’s budget plan also includes an additional $6,500 for new computer equipment

The K-6 school tax rate for residents is expected to go from 70 cents to 74 cents, or an increase of about 5 percent, per $100 of assessed value. When Pomfret’s portion of the Woodstock Union High School budget is figured in, the overall school tax rate is projected to jump this year from $1.58 to $1.68.

If this year’s Town Meeting is anything like recent years, the elementary school budget won’t cause much of a stir. “We’re lucky to have a community that supports our school,” said School Board Chairman Greg Greene.

An issue facing Pomfret, and many other communities in Vermont, is what to do about shrinking enrollment. In August 2005, Pomfret had 89 students. In August 2012, enrollment had dropped to 58 students, a 35 percent decline in seven years.

Pomfret, which is down to four kindergarten pupils and six in second grade, is teaming up with Bridgewater, Barnard and Woodstock for a state grant to study school consolidation, said Greene, who has served on the school for six years and is up for reelection.

Lamson, the Selectboard chairman, is also seeking a third term. Pomfret elects its town officials from the floor, so other potential nominees could surface on Town Meeting Day.

Jim Kenyon can be reached jim.kenyon@valley.net.