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Building for Books: Weathersfield Voters Consider Library Expansion

  • Weathersfield Library Director Nancy Tusinski hands a brand new book to Ryan Antonivich, 9, of Weathersfield who had stopped by after school to see if the book was available at the Proctor Library in Weathersfield, Vt., on Feb. 13, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Weathersfield Library Director Nancy Tusinski hands a brand new book to Ryan Antonivich, 9, of Weathersfield who had stopped by after school to see if the book was available at the Proctor Library in Weathersfield, Vt., on Feb. 13, 2014.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Weathersfield Library Director Nancy Tusinski speaks with a library patron in the cramped basement that houses the only bathroom, storage space, and a area to repair books at the Proctor Library in Weathersfield, Vt., on Feb. 13, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

    Weathersfield Library Director Nancy Tusinski speaks with a library patron in the cramped basement that houses the only bathroom, storage space, and a area to repair books at the Proctor Library in Weathersfield, Vt., on Feb. 13, 2014.
    Valley News - Sarah Priestap Purchase photo reprints »

  • Weathersfield Library Director Nancy Tusinski hands a brand new book to Ryan Antonivich, 9, of Weathersfield who had stopped by after school to see if the book was available at the Proctor Library in Weathersfield, Vt., on Feb. 13, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap
  • Weathersfield Library Director Nancy Tusinski speaks with a library patron in the cramped basement that houses the only bathroom, storage space, and a area to repair books at the Proctor Library in Weathersfield, Vt., on Feb. 13, 2014. <br/>Valley News - Sarah Priestap

Weathersfield Town and School Meeting will be held Monday, March 3, beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the Weathersfield School and Tuesday, March 4, with Australian Balloting from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Martin Memorial Hall in Ascutney.

Weathersfield — Stepping into the Proctor Library, it’s apparent in an instant why library trustees are asking voters to support a bond at Town Meeting to expand the library.

Bookshelves lining the walls are full top to bottom as are the shelves in the middle of floor. The children’s area in the back is equally stuffed and there is precious little room for sitting and reading or working at a table.

Library trustees and many others in town are hoping the cluttered look will be eliminated with the approval of a $1.3 million bond article on this year’s warning to build an addition off the back of the library. The expansion would increase the usable space from less than 900 square feet to 2,200 square feet.

Built in 1902 with a donation by Benjamin Blood, who named the library in honor of his mother, the library is its original size for the 6,600 volumes and other items.

“There is just no space,” said librarian Nancy Tusinski said.

A three-story addition would create numerous advantages for the town, she added.

“Weathersfield does not have a gathering place and the community room would offer a place for meetings and other functions,” Tusinski said. “We will be also able to expand our collection, offer more areas for quiet reading and studying for students to do homework and children’s storytime.”

There will also be more space for group computer classes instead of the one-on-one courses that are done now.

The unheated basement, with its original stone foundation, is now used by staff for repairing and storing books, files and other materials. It would be renovated with heat added. The first floor of the addition, with a meeting room for 30, would on the same level as the basement. The main entrance will be in the back where parking will be added.

Ernie Shand, chairman of the library’s board of trustees, said they would like to have the expansion completed by early next year. At past Town Meetings, voters have approved $150,000 for the project and another $50,000 has been raised from donations, with some of that spent on architectural drawings.

Shand said trustees may not need to borrow the full $1.3 million but want that authority so they do not come up short.

Residents appear to back the plans, according to Tusinski.

“What I am hearing from those who have not been to library for years is they are coming to renew their cards and let us know they support this project,” Tusinski said. “Others come in just to tell us they support it.”

When finished, the current library space will become a reading and exhibit area with a local history section and the second and third floors of the addition will be for books, the new children’s area and computer work stations.

The library article will be discussed, but not voted on, at the March 3 informational meeting. Plans can be viewed at weathersfieldvt.org under the Proctor Library link

Depending on the length of the borrowing, 20 or 30 years, it is estimated that the bond would add between $51 and $64 in taxes on a $200,000 home.

Town Budget

The proposed 2014-15 general fund budget of $1.25 million is $106,000 or 9 percent, more than this year’s budget of $1.1 million. The highway budget of $1 million is down about $150,000 from the current budget.

Town Manager Jim Mullen said if voters approve both budgets as presented along with seven separate articles with appropriations, the town tax rate is estimated to increase less than 4 cents, to 60 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. The increase would add $90 in town taxes to a home assessed at $250,000. Mullen attributes most of the tax increase to two loan payments of $46,000 for the bond approved last year to demolish most of the former Perkinsville School; an increase in the police budget for more staff; and the absence of surpluses in the highway and general fund budgets totaling $229,000 that were used last year to decrease taxes. The town also had to pay $8,000 toward its share of the courthouse restoration in Woodstock.

For next year, there is no fund balance in either the general fund or highway budget revenue column and about $25,000 was added for expansion of the police department from one full-time and two part- time officers to two full-time and three part-time, Mullen said.

“Other than that, everything pretty much stayed the same,” Mullen said about the municipal and highway budgets.

Articles 11,12, and 13 asks voters to authorize the town to borrow $293,000 for three to five years to buy a road grader, police cruiser and truck. Debt payments would not start until the 2015-16 fiscal year. Mullen noted that the 60-cent town tax rate is about the same as it was two years ago before the fund balances were used to lower the rate last year.

At the informational meeting Monday, March 3, residents will decide whether to keep or sell the 1879 portion of the former school in Perkinsville.

“It is pretty simple,” Mullen said. “Do we keep it or sell it? If we keep it, we will need to come back with a detailed plan on what to do with it.” Two additions to the school, which closed several years ago, were demolished last year.

Selectboard Races

Five candidates, including two incumbents, are on the ballot for two Selectboard seats.

Chairman Dan Boyer is being challenged by Mike Todd for a three-year seat.

“There are some projects going on that I would like to help get done,” said Boyer, 66, and retired. “I hope to retain the 1879 building and refurbish it.”

He is also eager to see repairs completed to Tarbell Hill where new, larger culverts have been installed to handle heavy rains from the nearby stream that is prone to flooding. Boyer said the final step is to work with the state to restore the contours of the streambed to keep water within the banks during heavy rains.

“That will get the streambed back to where it should be,” Boyer said.

Todd, 55, is the owner of Hawks Mountain Motorcycles. He was appointed to the board following a resignation in 2012 but was defeated in his bid for a full term last March.

“I’m running so I can be a voice of the people and try to make decisions based on that,” Todd said. “I don’t believe the board is doing that now. They just aren’t listening.”

One example cited by Todd was a vote last year by residents to create a reserve account for unanticipated expenses. “They never did that.”

He also said the budget committee’s suggestion that the projected tax increase for next year be cut in half was never given serious consideration by the Selectboard, which agreed to support the town manager’s recommendation.

Todd also believes the board erred in its decision to ask voters at the information meeting March 3 instead of on the ballot on what the town should do with the 1879 portion of the old school.

“They purposely did that to have fewer voters make the decision,” Todd said.

Finally, Todd said he wants to serve to be on the board when it hires a new town manager when Mullen retires.

Incumbent John Arrison, 63, has served on the board since 2002 and is seeking another two-year term.

He is an electrician and owns Watts-Up Electric Services. He wants to help search for the next town manager after Mullen retires at the end of the year and also help with Tarbell Hill. He said his record shows sound fiscal management.

“I think we have been able to keep the tax rate relatively low,” said Arrison.

Lynn Esty, assistant librarian in Weathersfield and Charles Horton, who is retired, are challenging Arrison.

“I think there needs to be some change,” said Esty. “I also want to see more town participation and have more people see how things are decided.”

If elected, Esty, who is on the zoning board and fire commission, said she would advocate getting more information to residents and seek their input on major issues.

Horton said he is retired and “old.”

“I’m running so the town stops wasting everyone’s money,” said Horton.

He does not believe the board is doing what voters want or what some committees, like the budget advisory, recommend.

“They just don’t listen,” he said.

School Budget

The proposed school budget of $6 million for the next fiscal year is 5.5 percent, or $316,000, more than this year. If approved as recommended, the budget would raise the homestead tax rate less than 4 cents from just under $1.66 to nearly $1.70 per $100 of assessed value.

The increase would add $97 in school taxes on a property assessed at $250,000.

School Board Chairman Nate McKeen said of the total increase, $288,000 is because of a higher assessment from the supervisory union, with nearly all of that, $266,000, in special education.

Weathersfield’s special education assessment will go from $694,000 this year to $960,000 next year, according to the supervisory union budget, a 38 percent jump.

“The special education mandates are what is driving the costs up,” McKeen said.

McKeen said they have more students in the school and more that need special education services.

Weathersfield enrollment in the K-8 school has gone from 219 last year to 241 this year.

With the increase at the supervisory level, McKeen said the board and school principal, worked hard to hold down expenses for the school.

“She has done an incredible job keeping a lid on increases,” McKeen said of Principal JeanMarie Oakman.

The board decided against some technology purchases that would assist students in taking Common Core standardized tests online.

“That was a painful decision because if the students are not used to the technology, it adds to the complexities. We also tried hard to maintain current student-teacher ratios,” McKeen said. “We have 18 per class on average with one class of 29.”

McKeen and incumbent school board members Sandra Dockum and Robin Tindall are running uncontested in this year’s election.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.