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‘Maintenance’ On the Agenda In Woodstock

Woodstock will hold its Town Meeting at 10 a.m. on Saturday, March 1 at the Town Hall Theatre, where voters will weigh in on the municipal budget and non-Australian ballot items. Australian ballot voting will take place on Tuesday, March 4 at Town Hall. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Woodstock — Bucking up the capital reserve fund and making the second round of payments on three pieces of town highway equipment are pushing up the town budget this year, and if voters approve the proposed spending plan, property owners will see modestly higher tax bills.

Woodstock officials are also hoping to tap some maple trees in the town forest on Long Hill Road to generate new revenue, contingent upon voter approval at Town Meeting on March 1.

Town Manager Phil Swanson called the proposed fiscal year 2015 budget, which starts on July 1, a “maintenance budget,” noting $50,000 needs to be put aside for a culvert repair on Gully Road and money was added for salt, sand and gravel.

The state has changed “drastically” the way culverts need to be designed, Swanson said, and the project will be more costly than anticipated, resulting in more money needing to be set aside.

“The road saw a big washout during Irene and this past summer,” he said. “It really needs to be replaced.”

The equipment payments for the grader, backhoe and front-end loader picked up last year total roughly $51,000.

The proposed municipal budget is up 4 percent, or $172,000, to $4.6 million. Assuming no significant changes in the Grand List, municipal taxes in Woodstock on a $250,000 home would total $811, a $30 increase, if the proposed town budget is approved at Town Meeting.

The proposed tax rate impact does not include the $211,797 in warning articles, as Swanson said it would be premature to calculate that number.

Voters will decide whether to use the nearly 100-acre town forest for the purpose of maple sap collection, a move that would be a “revenue generator” for the town.

Swanson said residents will vote whether to allow the town to lease the land for no more than 15 years. If approved, the town will get advice from a forester on how to best use the land, whether it be for sap collection or other means, and then go from there.

“I am in favor of having the land be productive for the taxpayers,” Swanson said.

There are a record-high 34 articles on Woodstock’s warning, 20 of them added via petition, which range from $50,000 in additional funding — over its allotted budget — for the Norman Williams Public Library and $32,000 for Pentangle Council on the Arts to $2,400 for Stagecoach Transportation Services.

“The support we get from the town isn’t enough to cover all of our costs and to keep the arts alive and affordable in the community,” Pentangle Interim Director Jane Van Buren said. “The separate article allows us to keep the movies affordable and have free events.”

Swanson said some of the groups petitioned to get on the warning following fundraising shortfalls. All of the petitioned articles will be voted on by Australian ballot on Tuesday, March 4. Elections for town offices will be voted by Australian ballot as well, but there are no contested races.

The town is seeking voter approval of $25,000 to help cover improvements to Vail Field. Voters allocated the same amount of money last year, and Swanson said the funds will go into an account to eventually redo the basketball and tennis court playing surfaces.

“The tennis court surface is suffering from frost heaves and is dangerous to play on,” Swanson said.

The Woodstock Chamber of Commerce is looking for an additional $18,000, on top of the $26,700 in the town budget, to help operate the Mechanic Street Welcome Center — something the center has requested and received for the past several years, said Director Beth Finlayson.

The additional money helps pay the wages of people who operate the center, which provides public restrooms and information about Woodstock attractions.

“The money keeps the welcome center open,” Finlayson said.

Swanson said another area pushing up the proposed budget is salaries and wages, especially for ambulance service personnel as the town has been under-budgeting in past years.

Six organizations in Woodstock, including the Ottauquechee Health Center, Woodstock Masonic Association and the Prosper Community House, are asking for tax-exempt status, something Swanson called routine.

Voters will also have a say on whether any solar power installations in town will get a break from paying property taxes on the infrastructure. Swanson said the Selectboard didn’t take a stance on the issue.

Jordan Cuddemi can be reached at jcuddemi@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.

CLARIFICATION

Municipal taxes in Woodstock on a $250,000 home would total $811, a $30 increase, if the proposed town budget is approved at Town Meeting. An earlier verison of this story was unclear on the tax impact.