Budget Passes; Firetruck Request Tabled

Valley News Correspondent
Friday, March 04, 2016
Bradford, Vt. — Whether the fire department will get to replace an aging firetruck remains to be seen as voters at Town Meeting on Tuesday decided to table the measure over a wording issue.

The proposed $1.15 million budget, however, met little resistance and was voted in by those who attended Town Meeting at Bradford Academy.

The fire department requested to use up to $190,000 from its capital reserve fund to put toward the purchase of a $450,000 truck to replace a 1994 pumper truck, with the remainder to come from “other funding sources,” including taxes.

The problem arose when Selectboard Chairman Ted Unkles tried to amend the article, pointing out that the measure should have included the wording “financed over five years.”

Without that wording, the remaining $260,000 would have to come from taxes — this year.

Tax collector Jennifer Rivers said this could mean $106 extra in taxes on a home valued at $100,000.

And the amendment might have worked, except it would not be legal from the floor, former longtime Town Moderator Larry Coffin told voters. Because the amendment would change the manner in which the article was being funded, he said, it can’t be changed at the meeting because it would have had to be warned prior to the meeting.

When asked if he wanted to withdraw his amendment, Unkles said, “Well, since it’s illegal, I guess I withdraw it.”

Voters ultimately decided to table the issue until a new, properly worded article, could be warned and a special town meeting held. One voter asked how much that would cost. Unkles said he didn’t know, but not much more than “time and aggravation.”

Two other articles also had wording issues: one, asking for $4,120 for Stagecoach Transportation Services, a nonprofit community transportation service; the other, seeking $3,000 for Adult Basic Education, which offers free instruction for adults and teens. The problem in these articles was that the wording included appropriating the funds, but not raising them by taxes.

Once again, Unkles attempted to amend the language. Once again Coffin said he likely legally couldn’t. This time, though, voters decided to pass the measures anyway, even though no one was sure what would happen if they did.

“I guess the Selectboard will just have to figure it out,” Town Moderator Peter Mallary said after the vote.

Voters also approved about $929,000 for the town highway budget and the $1.15 million general fund budget, up about $58,000 from last year.

The uptick in spending in the general fund budget largely is attributed to the loan the town took out to cover public library roof repairs, which voters approved last year. The town also had to budget more money for trash and recycling services. The implementation of the state’s new universal recycling law, Act 148, has driven up costs.

However, $166,000 in expected revenue and $100,000 taken from the town’s surplus for the general fund budget meant the amount to be raised in taxes was just under $880,000.

And it’s the surplus the town had this year that turns out to be the gift that keeps on giving. Unkles said more than two-thirds of the $600,000 surplus the town has was the direct result of efforts by Rivers, who managed to recoup more than $260,000 in back taxes last year.

In addition to covering a portion of the annual budget, the surplus also went toward three warning articles that transferred $150,000 for sidewalks, $60,000 for the town reappraisal and $100,000 for the fire department capital fund from the general fund balance, Unkles said. None of these items will affect taxes.

In addition to the funds for Stagecoach and adult learning, voters approved an additional $34,863 in funds for various organizations, including the Orange East Senior Center, Northeast Slopes and Visiting Nurse and Hospice for VT and NH. That amount is down about $2,500 from what voters approved last year.

The Water and Sewer Commission held its meeting for its residents after Town Meeting.

Ratepayers re-elected Leonard Dobbins as commissioner for a five-year term and approved a water budget of about $293,200, about $6,000 less than voters approved last year. The sewer budget also has decreased by about $52,000, to about $274,900 and was approved.