Woodstock to Vote on Business Recruiter Post

Woodstock will hold its Town Meeting at 10 a.m. on March 2 at the Town Hall Theater, where voters will weigh in on the municipal budget and non-Australian Ballot items. Australian Ballot voting will take place on March 5 at the same place. Polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Woodstock — A proposed budget that’s down slightly, a slate of uncontested board races and a lack of big projects suggest a quiet year at Town Meeting.

But perhaps it’s too quiet around town. Town officials are proposing spending $50,000 to hire a part-time economic development coordinator to recruit and retain businesses. Municipal Manager Phil Swanson said this week there will be four empty storefronts by the time the new fiscal year begins July.

“We usually have none,” he said. “We’re used to having none.”

The proposed municipal budget is about $4.1 million, a 1.8 percent decrease from the current year’s spending. Other proposed spending include $20,000 for a fund to save up for a new fire truck and the first bond payment for repairs to the Little Theater, which was damaged during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011.

Town officials declined to estimate the change to municipal portion of the property tax rate, citing unforeseeable fluctuations in property values and the fact that four-fifths of Woodstock residents’ tax bills come from the school side.

However, Swanson said that he expected taxes to increase, even with a decreasing budget, due to declining revenues from other sources.

The tax rate also would be affected if voters pass some or all of this year’s record-high 30 warning articles, which range from the economic development coordinator position to $50,000 for maintenance at Normal Williams Public Library to support for a variety of nonprofit agencies.

Eleven of these warrant articles made their way onto the warning via petition, which required signatures of 5 percent of the voter checklist. Swanson said the many groups looked to get on the warning following fundraising difficulties brought on by the down economy.

“They’re doing their best, and they’re all worthy organizations,” Swanson said. “They’re worthy, but they’re not what’s called an essential municipal service. It’s at the discretion of the voters.”

There are no contested races at either the town or school side in Woodstock.

“It used to be contentious,” said Town Clerk Jerome Morgan, adding that in the past there were often three or four people running for an open seat. “It isn’t that way anymore.”

On the education side, the proposed 2013-14 budget for Woodstock Elementary School is just over $3 million, according to Paige Hiller, chairwoman of the School Board.

The spending plan represents a 3.2 increase from the current year’s budget, Hiller said. The supervisory union anticipates a tax increase of 5 cents per $100 of valuation for the elementary school. The proposed Woodstock Union High School budget is expected to add another 6 cents, bringing the school portion of the property tax rate to $1.65 per $100 of valuation.

That translates to $4,125 in school tax bill, a $275 increase over this year on a property assessed at $250,000.

Hiller said declining enrollment that has plagued other schools around the state hasn’t been felt much in Woodstock. In the past six years, she said, the number of students has hovered around 180. Currently, enrollment stands at 178, with projections for a similar number next year.

That relatively flat enrollment resulted in a relatively modest overall budget increase, even as costs for health insurance benefits increased by 14 percent. Unlike the staff cuts taking place at the high school, the elementary school doesn’t have any reduction planned.

“Our charge for being voted in is being fiscally responsible for our taxpayers,” Hiller said. “I think we’ve done that to the best of our ability, while providing a really exceptional program.

“We’re really lucky,” she added. “We really are. We’re very, very fortunate.”

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.