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Norwich Will Begin Tower Payments

Budget Plan Up 3%, Includes Pay Raises for Employees

Norwich town and school budgets will be discussed Monday, March 3, at 7 p.m. at Tracy Hall. Voting for town officers and all warning articles will be done by Australian ballot on Tuesday, March 4, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Tracy Hall.

Norwich — A bond for a communication tower will begin to hit Norwich tax payers’ wallets in fiscal year 2015, part of a proposed budget that is increasing 3.3 percent.

The nearly $4.2 million budget is $132,472 higher than the current year’s budget, and about $60,000 worth of the increase is due to a 10-year bond and 5-year lease-purchase agreement for the 180-foot tower on New Boston Road that was completed in December. The rest comes from increases in worker compensation insurance and property and casualty insurance.

“Our goal was to provide the same level of services that Norwich citizens have become accustomed to. Given that goal, I think we did it for as low of a cost as I think it could be done,” Selectboard Chairman Stephen Flanders said.

Also in the budget are salary increases for several employees, ranging from about 3 percent to about 8 percent, the second year in a row that their pay would be raised. Last year, several department heads received pay hikes after a report from a town consultant recommended them.

There is also a $4,000 increase to a line item that will provide funding for a 10-year plan to help the town clerk with records preservation and restoration. And the town will continue funding a full-time assistant town clerk, which was approved by voters during last year’s Town Meeting.

If all articles pass, including funding for nonprofits, then the tax rate would increase from 49 cents to 52 cents per $100 of valuation. Owners of a $400,000 home would see their municipal tax bill increase from about $1,965 to about $2,080.

This year, requests for outside appropriations are increasing by about 35 percent, a $100,000 increase. That is driven by higher requests from the Norwich Public Library, which is asking for $250,000 for its operating budget and $50,000 for a capital reserve fund.

The nonprofit received $200,000 from Norwich taxpayers at last Town Meeting.

The increase is due to increased costs in heating and electricity, and it’s costing more to keep the building operating, library director Lucinda Walker said. On top of that, the library will still try to raise $70,000 in donations.

The library has about 3,400 registered patrons, Walker said, and 70,000 people walked through the library’s doors last year. The library has seen an increase in people using the community room for meetings, Internet access — the library was recently hooked up to ECFiber —and it’s offering more programming and events.

“When the economy began to sort of crumble in 2008, the usage of the library, which had been stable, went through the roof,” Walker said. “People rediscover their libraries when they’re being conscious of their personal finances.”

The additional $50,000 for the reserve fund will be put aside as a rainy day fund for capital improvements and repairs. Last fall, the library was trying to add insulation to its roof when it found an unexpected mold problem, which was costly and caused the library to close its community room and the children’s section.

Walker said that predicament made the library realize it needs a reserve fund for unexpected repairs.

There’s also one contested Selectboard race in which Dan Goulet, a self-employed carpenter, is trying to oust longtime Selectman Ed Childs.

Childs has been on the Selectboard for nine years and previously served 16 years on the planning commission. The 70-year-old retired commercial banker has lived in Norwich for 38 years and said one of his main goals since he was elected in 2005 has been long-term capital planning, and he said he hopes to continue that if he’s re-elected.

Childs added that fiscal stability, keeping expenditures down and the tax rate low have always been priorities for him.

Norwich has had a lot of turmoil in past years, and Childs said it has always been his goal to bring some stability between the Selectboard and the town manager, a position that was only added in 2002.

But Childs said he thinks town government is running much more smoothly now, and he wants the town to continue on that trajectory.

“I think the thing that I have brought to the board is basically the ability to help create a team and work together to get things done,” Childs said.

The 60-year-old Goulet, a Norwich resident of 25 years, has served five years on the conservation commission. He also maintains about 300 acres worth of property in Norwich and is the sexton at the Norwich Congregational Church.

Goulet said he values face-to-face interaction and he likes to listen to what people are passionate about.

“Everyone who knows me knows that I will listen and I’ll be your voice,” Goulet said.

It’s also important, he said, that the town build a new facility for its police department, which is currently housed in an old ranch house — an issue the Selectboard has been discussing.

Keeping the tax rate down is also a priority, Goulet said, noting that he’s not a wealthy man. He said he’s had conversations with people in town who have said they moved to Norwich for the schools, but it’s so expensive that they plan to move after their children graduate.

“I love the town of Norwich,” Goulet said. “I just want to keep it affordable for everybody.”

On the school side, the nearly $5.4 million Norwich School District budget, which includes Marion Cross School, is up 3.8 percent. The proposed Dresden budget, which includes Hanover High School and Richmond Middle School, is $24.1 million, a 2.7 percent increase.

The education tax rate is expected to increase about 6 percent, up 10 cents to $1.84 per $100 of assessed value. That would make the school tax bill about $7,360 on a $400,000 home — a $420 increase — for residents who don’t qualify for Vermont’s income sensitivity program.

Sarah Brubeck can be reached at sbrubeck@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.