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Tunbridge Selectboard Incumbent Unseated; Public Bank Resolution Passes; Dairy Contract Tabled

Tunbridge — As a Dartmouth College undergraduate in the early 2000s, Erin Gooch became enamored of Tunbridge while driving Vermont’s back roads as a way to spend free time.

Now, the 34-year-old will have the chance to help steer policy in town.

Unseating incumbent Bob Dunkle, her Spring Road neighbor, Gooch was voted in by paper ballot, 118-52, in the lone contested Selectboard seat at Town Meeting on Tuesday.

Gooch, who works as a value performance specialist at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, is leaving her post as town agent but will remain on the cemetery commission at least until next year. She hopes to help the town by applying her skills in improving how matters are processed.

“I’m hoping to help get approved developments up and running more quickly and efficiently,” Gooch said after the meeting.

“Another goal is to produce a meeting calendar for residents and help them better understand when deadlines are coming up, when they need to request funds and things like that.”

Gooch joins Ingrid Van Steamburg and Gary Mullen on the Selectboard.

In business handled on the floor, residents tabled an anticipated vote on a proposal by the Planning Commission for a “dairy farmers contract” that would offer a tax stabilization program for residents who earn at least two-thirds of their income from farming.

Town lister Ruddy Ruddell initially hoped to present guidelines for the program at Town Meeting, but said the commission still needs time to iron out details.

“It’s a complex issue that has a lot of ins and outs,” Ruddell said.

“We’re taking a multi-pronged approach. … We hope a lot of people will come to an information gathering meeting we have scheduled for April 8. We’ll present a number of development proposals and be seeking public input.”

Voters did support a resolution calling for the Vermont Legislature to create a public bank that would accept deposits from state agencies and municipal governments. Supporters said such a bank would make Vermont more economically stable and self-reliant by helping to provide in-state loans for students, homeowners, municipalities and businesses.

“I think this would help let Montpelier know that we are locally minded in Tunbridge,” one supporter said.

Not every issue drew such near-unanimous backing.

Some bristled when it was announced that the portion of the highway fund supported by property taxes would increase by 6 percent — to about $633,000 — in part to help replace a 10-wheel truck that is only about 5 years old.

The truck hauls sand, plows town roads and is “first on the scene,” for everyday maintenance on a year-round basis, according to Road Foreman Rodney Hoyt.

“It hauls heavy material all year long. … They just don’t make these trucks like they used to,” Hoyt said. “The life expectancy for these trucks is about five years. We nurse them as long as we can.”

Some residents disagreed and called for a paper ballot on the highway fund, which was approved during lunch break.

An article calling for the establishment of a rainy-day fund not to exceed $10,000 prompted more debate. Selectwoman Van Steamburg amended the article to read that the funds were to be used “for purposes of deficit reduction.”

That raised questions about how the town had at one point run up a deficit of more than $100,000; it has since been reduced to about $10,250.

Town Treasurer Ann Fragnella said the town accumulated that debt in part because of accounting errors.

The article was amended again to remove the phrase “rainy day” and passed by a 79-70 paper ballot vote. The fund will hold money in reserve to be used for deficit reduction.

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