Cloudy
74°
Cloudy
Hi 73° | Lo 56°

Weathersfield to Weigh Contested Seats, Budget

Town and School Meeting Monday, March 4 at 6:30 p.m. at the Weathersfield School. Australian balloting Tuesday, March 5, 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., Martin Memorial Hall

Weathersfield — At Town Meeting this year, Weathersfield voters will be asked to settle two contested Selectboard races and also establish reserve funds for the highway and general budgets in addition to approving the transfer of a portion of the current year’s budget surplus in to the newly created accounts.

For highway, an estimated $134,000 would go into reserve and for the general fund it would be nearly $115,000. Both figures are 10 to 11 percent of their respective annual expenses.

Town Manager Jim Mullen said the surpluses were due to several factors.

“First, we’ve been diligently collecting delinquent taxes,” Mullen said. “We have also gotten a lot of grants (nearly $1.5 million) to pay for construction projects, and we’ve been lucky with the weather.”

The Selectboard voted 3-2 on Jan. 31 to recommend voters create the reserve funds, a step required under state law to set up the accounts.

“We will have the rainy day funds set up and if we don’t need it, it will sit there,” Mullen said, adding that the money would help in the event of an emergency.

The two articles on the warning for the reserve funds will be voted on from the floor at the March 4 meeting.

For the proposed budgets, general fund spending is up 4.4 percent to $1.1 million, but with use of $133,000 in surplus, the amount to be raised by taxes is down $31,000 to $677,929. The town is recommending the hiring of a second, part-time police officer, which increases that line item by $22,000 to $49,500. A 1.7 percent cost-of-living increase for town employees is included in the budget.

For the $1.2 million highway budget, spending is projected to increase about $150,000, including $119,000 for a culvert on Baltimore Road. But the increase is being more than offset with grants and $80,000 from the fund balance, so the amount to be raised by taxes is flat with the current year.

If the budgets and $112,400 in seven separate appropriations all pass on March 5 as recommended, the town tax rate is projected to drop almost 1.2 percent, or seven-tenths of a cent, to 59.75 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. That would lower town taxes on a $200,000 home by $14 a year to $1,195. The estimated rate is more than two cents or 4 percent lower than two years ago when it was 62.07 cents. It would be the fourth straight year the tax rate has decreased.

Also on the ballot is a second attempt to win voter approval for work at the former Perkinsville Elementary School. In November, voters turned down a $700,000 bond that would have paid for demolishing the 1954 and 1969 sections of the school and renovated the historic 1879 building. This time, the town will ask voters to borrow $225,000 over five years to demolish the newer sections. Another $175,000 for the $400,000 project would come from grants.

“Let us focus on this because we know this needs to be done,” Mullen said. “We will then have more time to think about the brick (1879) building.”

If approved, the money would pay for demolition and removal of hazardous materials along with leveling the site with grass for fields and adding parking.

In contested races, incumbent Selectboard member Mike Todd, who was defeated in a bid for a board seat last year but was appointed following a resignation, faces former board member and current town moderator Peter Cole for a three-year seat. In the other Selectboard contest, Alan Hudson is challenging incumbent Richard Clattenburg for a two-year seat.

Todd, 54, owns Hawks Mountain Motorcycles. He said his record shows that he listens to the voters.

“I firmly believe in representing the people over any personal agenda,” he said in a prepared statement. “Tell the people the truth, give them the pros and cons of the issue and let them make an informed decision ... As chairman of the Perkinsville Reuse Committee I made sure information was available to the voters and any decisions would be made by them.”

If re-elected, Todd said he wants to work on resolving several issues including the hiring of a new police chief, reviewing the employee compensation package and health care costs, updating the delinquent tax policy and, depending on voter decisions, finishing up with the Perkinsville School, and dealing with surpluses.

“I want to focus on accountability and fiscal responsibility,” said Todd.

Cole, who is the executive director of the Holstein Association in Brattleboro, Vt., and at one time served as town manager in Weathersfield, said he is eager to engage again in town government.

“I stepped off the board several years ago and I miss the role,” Cole said. “The last 20 years I have been heavily involved in the town and I want to serve the people again.”

If elected, Cole said his goals are to keep the town on solid financial footing and also reach a resolution on the former Perkinsville school building.

Clattenburg is completing his first term on the board.

“It has been a privilege and a terrific education learning about town government,” Clattenburg said.

He said challenges ahead for the board include managing the town and its employees in the face of escalating health insurance costs.

“It is a question of how to manage the town and keep taxes as reasonable as possible,” he said.

Regarding the creation of reserve accounts, Clattenburg said he voted to put them on the warning to give voters the opportunity to decide.

Hudson, who serves on the planning commission and budget committee, wants to restrain spending.

“I think it is time to control taxes and to do that, you have to control spending, said Hudson, who is retired after a career in business.

“I will bring fiscal discipline to the board,” he said.

Hudson opposes the reserve funds and wants the money returned to the taxpayers.

“I will fight for the majority of Weathersfield residents. That is why I am running.”

The proposed school budget of $5.6 million represents an increase of nearly 10 percent, or $509,500, from the current year.

Windsor Southeast Supervisory Union Superintendent Dave Baker said the increase is attributable to a 14 percent jump in health insurance costs, a teachers’ contract that grants about 2.5 percent pay increases and a higher assessment for the supervisory union costs.

However, Weathersfield’s common level of appraisal has moved up nearly 6 percentage points to 96 percent, meaning homes are being assessed closer to their market value, which would be 100 percent. So despite the spending jump, the homestead education tax rate is projected to drop about a half-cent to $1.67 per $100 of assessed valuation. The non-residential rate is projected to drop 5 cents from $1.52 to $1.47, lowering taxes on a $200,000 property by $100 a year.

If the town and school warnings were approved as recommended, the annual homestead taxes on a $200,000 property would decrease about $18 to $4,535.

Article 5 asked voters for permission to take $90,000 out of a capital reserve fund to buy a school bus.

There are no contested School Board races.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com.