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Randolph Voters Oppose Pipeline

Randolph — Voters declared their opposition to tar sands oil passing through Vermont while debating the merits of shifting surplus funds into reserve accounts and allowing a seven-day grace period for delinquent water and sewer payments at the business portion of Town Meeting yesterday.

The tar sands resolution offered by Cynthia Jackson was added from the floor at the end of the three-hour meeting, held yesterday morning and afternoon at Chandler Music Hall. The non-binding resolution, passed by a voice vote, opposes a proposal to pump tar sands oil from Canada through Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom via an existing pipeline between Montreal and Portland, Maine.

The resolution was the only one offered during the meeting, though there was plenty of debate on nearly all of the 47 articles on this year’s warning, of which 13 were voted on during the business meeting.

Consuming a large portion of the meeting was discussion over how to best use the nearly $1 million in surpluses accumulated in the town’s coffers over the past decade. One article on yesterday’s warning asked voters to approve the creation of a reserve fund that could be tapped for emergencies and would be funded by up to 5 percent of the general fund budget. Two additional articles proposed allocating surpluses to restore fund to the emergency reserve account, and to cover any shortfalls. All three articles passed.

Randolph Town Manager Melvin Adams emphasized that the existing surplus would go to fund the new reserve balance, and that it would be a way for town residents to see how the excess money is used.

“What we’re talking about right now is really bringing funds that were always there, but ... the only way you could find where those funds were was to go to the auditor’s report,” he said. “We’ve made this more transparent so voters can look and see where we have all this money.”

Responding to a question about whether the surplus could be applied to reduce taxes, Adams explained that the town wouldn’t do so unless faced with a large tax increase.

“If you reduce taxes this year with last year’s surplus, when we create next year’s budget, you have to make up the money in those savings,” Adams said. The remainder of the surplus, he added, would be applied to pay for deferred maintenance projects.

Separate articles to allow the town to collect an 8 percent penalty fee on late water and sewer payments passed, with amendments added to each article to allow for a seven-day grace period after the due date. Both amendments generated considerable debate.

“I think this is a bad precedent to set,” said Al Floyd. “You have time to save up for that money. It’s a bad precedent to keep extending deadlines.”

But Michael Casey, who added the amendment allowing for the grace period for late water district payments, said the written article didn’t allow for extenuating circumstances.

“Every other bill you get gives you a grace period, and things do come up. ... I don’t think seven days of a grace period is asking too much,” Casey said.

Also at yesterday’s business meeting, Rick Hauser was elected to a three-year term and Joe Voci to a one-year term on the town’s Budget Committee. Voters also approved the creation of a Property Assessed Clean Energy District, a program that loans homeowners money to make energy-efficiency improvements to their home. In a PACE district, a lien is placed on properties where improvements are made, instead of individual property owners. Randolph residents added an amendment making clear that the program is administered through the energy nonprofit Efficiency Vermont.

Residents were also deciding on a $2.5 million general fund budget and a highway budget of $1.8 million. Results of the vote were not available last night.

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