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Forum, Feb. 26: 5 Selectboard candidates will help Hartford move forward

Published: 2/25/2021 10:00:14 PM
Modified: 2/25/2021 10:00:12 PM
5 Selectboard candidates will help Hartford move forward

It was with some sadness that I attended my last Selectboard meeting before stepping down. I have loved Hartford politics and truly enjoyed my years serving and representing the town. It has been quite a ride.

Over the past nine years, Hartford has witnessed the powerful rise of progressive local governance. This has resulted in a forward-thinking approach to matters such as community resilience, racial equity, immigration, homelessness, climate change, community wellness and the town’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The work in each area has been advanced by robust municipal committees, and in each area, the Selectboard has taken action. Goals have been set. Plans have been made. Though the cumulative impact of this work has been extraordinary, in many cases, the real work is far from complete.

Now that election season is upon us, we have heard in candidate debates that this work has created a divide in Hartford. Some have said it would be good to take a break from hard conversations, that Hartford needs to go back to a more “nuts and bolts” approach to governance focused more on infrastructure. Some long to go back to the way it always was.

But can we go back? No. The historical moment calls us forward. The age of widespread climate disruption, an unprecedented health crisis, and a national and local reckoning on racial inequity call on Hartford to continue to become the most responsible, prepared and inclusive community it can be.

When I think of these things, I am proud to endorse Dan Fraser, Ally Tufenkjian, Rachel Edens, John Hall and Julia Dalphin for Hartford Selectboard. These five have demonstrated their ability to search creatively for new solutions and their commitment to work diligently in pursuit of them.

If you call Hartford home, please join me on Tuesday in voting them in.

SIMON DENNIS

White River Junction

Hanover Finance Committee backs Dresden budget plan

Residents of Hanover and Norwich come together on Tuesday to vote on our Dresden School District budget and related warrant articles. The Hanover Finance Committee voted unanimously to support the Dresden budget proposal in Article 5.

Notwithstanding big pension-related cost drivers, expenditure growth at 1.4% was modest owing to good fiscal management and responsibility. An unfavorable swing in tuition revenues upped the actual district assessment to +3.3%. The Hanover Finance Committee co-authored and endorses Article 6, effectively a change to the tuition arrangement for Hanover sixth graders, to dampen such swings in future.

The Dresden district does not tax directly; rather, its assessments are folded into the Hanover and Norwich school district tax rates. Student counts by town determine the split of the +3.3% overall assessment, and as the proportions change year to year, so too does the percentage change in assessment. A larger share of Norwich students results in an 8% increase this year; while a lesser share from Hanover drops its increase to 1%. For Norwich taxpayers, note that the student mix pendulum swings both ways. The Dresden district has been a fruitful partnership between our towns for decades, to the benefit of our children and taxpayers alike.

Lastly, the Hanover Finance Committee voted unanimously to support the technology infrastructure upgrade (Article 2) and the Service Employees contract agreement (Article 4). The technology upgrade has not only educational, but also safety and potential cost saving benefits.

Please vote, either by absentee ballot for those with COVID-19 concerns, or on Tuesday, between 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Hanover residents vote at the high school and Norwich residents vote at Tracy Hall. Details of the warrant articles and budget can be found at www.sau70.org, as can links to the presentation and discussion of the Dresden warrant articles and budget.

CAREY CALLAGHAN

Hanover

The writer is vice chair of the Hanover Finance Committee.

Reject the Thetford budget to ensure transparent discussion

Adopting a town budget in Thetford means identifying needs and resources and reaching agreement about what to spend. The transparent and deliberative process that is Town Meeting means the budget we adopt is one most townspeople can get behind, even if it isn’t exactly what they would have chosen.

That is not what is happening this year.

We want to recognize that our Selectboard is hard-working, and that most members were elected just last year. Together with changes in town manager and COVID-19, they faced many challenges.

Then why are we asking people to do something some of us have never done — vote down the town budget? A vote against the budget is a way to let our elected officials and new manager know how important deliberation and collaboration are.

Last Tuesday, about 120 people remotely attended the first of two informational sessions for presentations about items to be voted on Tuesday (or earlier by absentee ballot). If you have not heard the recording of that meeting, follow the link on the Thetfordvt.gov website.

Many of us concluded the budget was developed without meaningful information from and discussion with departments and committees to be affected. Listen especially to Police Chief Mike Evans and Fire Chief Chad Whitcomb.

If we had a usual Town Meeting, we would listen, ask questions and modify the amounts requested — up or down. Unfortunately, unlike 25% of Vermont towns that decided to wait to hold their Town Meeting, Thetford selected the option of only voting the budget up or down — particularly problematic because when the Selectboard was asked about waiting we were told an approved budget was needed to get the loan for Route 132 work (voter approved last fall). In fact, the loan was approved a couple of weeks ago.

Please help make sure Thetford’s budget process is one in which people can learn, modify and then vote.

The town would be much better served if articles 4 and 5 (town funds) are voted down, which would allow time to consult with all constituencies before finalizing the budget.

WENDY COLE, JUDY HARVEY,
JENNIFER LOROS, JIM MASLAND
and SHERRY MERRICK

Thetford

This letter was endorsed by five other Thetford residents.

Support Hanover, Dresden technology upgrades

An important part of the Hanover and Dresden school districts’ budgets is up for a vote on Tuesday as part of the school district meetings.

While the Hanover and Dresden school districts have been aware of the need for, and indeed have been working on improving the technology infrastructure and delivery in their school districts, the arrival of COVID-19 brought these shortcomings front and center. No significant investments in the technology infrastructure of the schools and administrative departments of the districts have been made in the last 10 years. The advancement of the use of technology in the classrooms, communications equipment upgrades and state requirements are all compelling reasons that we address this issue in a comprehensive way.

The Technology Bond Warrant Article calls for the appropriation through bond offering of $842,764 for Dresden and $245,334 for Hanover to be financed over a 10-year term at indicative interest rates below 2%. Specifically, replacing and adding cable account for approximately 46% and 49% of the cost for Dresden and Hanover, respectively. Switches and access points comprise 40% and 36% of the cost for Dresden and Hanover, respectively. The remaining balances consist of telephone equipment and auxiliary backup power systems. These improvements will serve the districts for at least the expected term of the bonds and are a very small but critical part of the districts’ overall annual expenditures.

There are savings to current operating expenses that are expected to be gained as a result of this technology investment, as well as an opportunity to apply for federal grants, further reducing the net expenditures related to this project.

The rapid advancement and increased reliance on technology in our everyday lives and the classroom highlights the need to bring our school districts’ infrastructures up to date. We are fortunate that the expected useful life of the investment is significant and the interest rate environment is very favorable. The Hanover Finance Committee unanimously supports this warrant article and we would encourage our fellow residents to do the same.

MAC GARDNER

Hanover

The writer is a member of the Hanover Finance Committee.

Why I’m running to serve on Norwich Selectboard

When the Tracy Hall geothermal proposal (Article 8) passed in March 2020, I was disheartened by the prospect of adding a $2 million bond to the town’s debt load with a payback of almost $3 million over the life of the bond.

I soon learned that there was a 30-day window to request a revote on the article and knew it would require quick action. Signatures from 165 registered Norwich voters (at least 5% of the voter checklist) were required to request a revote. Through a community-wide effort, more than 250 signatures were gathered paving the way for the “rescission” of Article 8.

In the Dec. 2, 2020, Selectboard meeting, the town’s auditor said that a debt load of $3 million to $4 million would be “a lot” for Norwich. If Article 8 had not been rescinded, the town’s debt load would now be at $3.7 million. This figure is at the high end of the range the auditor thought would be concerning — my word, not hers.

Many characterize Norwich as a wealthy town. However, this should not be taken to mean that we have unlimited resources. We have many folks in town who are retired or on a fixed income or living paycheck to paycheck. For them, this is a reality that cannot be ignored, nor should it be summarily dismissed by those who are more financially secure.

Norwich needs a capital plan and budget as a road map (inclusive of green initiatives). We cannot continue to drift along, taking up each budget and capital project proposal in a vacuum.

With limited borrowing capacity remaining for all the needed improvements, replacements and repairs facing our town, we will need to be extremely prudent in our spending.

If elected, I will make capital planning and budgeting a top priority. A vote for me is a vote for fiscal restraint, accountability, due diligence, transparency, long-term planning and investing in our future.

PAMELA T. SMITH

Norwich

There is no substitute for Mary Layton’s experience

This is to support the Norwich Selectboard candidacy of Mary Layton, who has served for six years in that position. During her tenure, she has shown a combination of forward thinking on key town issues and deep understanding for the pros and cons of ideas that show initial promise.

Of those in senior positions in Norwich town government, she has the longest tenure. She was on the board that hired our current town manager, who in turn hired a complete change of senior staff to backfill outgoing retirees. Her seniority is a significant strength, because she has addressed a much wider array of issues than any of her current colleagues on the board.

As a former Selectboard member, serving alongside her, I appreciated her thoroughness, articulateness and comportment in addressing the major issues of our time together on the board, which included acquiring new capital facilities and hiring a new town manager.

While I commend her opponent for her energy and willingness to dig into issues, I feel that it is no substitute for Mary Layton’s experience and probity.

STEPHEN FLANDERS

Norwich

Mary Layton earned my vote

As somewhat of a newcomer resettling in Vermont, I have learned that it takes time to navigate local political issues and become comfortable speaking up within our cherished participatory democracy.

As a proponent of local climate action guided by the demands of science on us all, I have learned that it’s important to listen to diverse views on this complex issue.

And as a good neighbor in a small town, I have learned that civility and mutual respect are a key to working together. Then, speak up.

My town, Norwich, has but one contested race for an important office. I have decided that Mary Layton, running for reelection to the Selectboard, has earned my vote.

JACK CUSHMAN

Norwich

The future of Faulkner Park

I’m writing to urge the town of Woodstock to take on the long-term ownership and management of Faulkner Park. While I respect the intentions of the group of private citizens advocating for a new nonprofit organization to control the land, policy and the proceeds of a large endowment, in this case I think ownership by the town is a much better option in the long run.

The Faulkner legacy was created to exist “in perpetuity” for the benefit of all who call Woodstock home. Not-for-profit organizations come and go. Personalities change, people move, interests flag over time and needs change. The best hope for a “forever” Faulkner Park lies with the town. The town is accountable in ways that a small nonprofit is not. The town, with its elected officials and town manager, has existing internal management capacities, equipment and expertise. The town’s Billings Park Commission has proven itself capable of partnering with other local, regional and national conservation groups to protect land and manage trails. We do not need to create an entirely new and redundant infrastructure to care for Faulkner Park. Faulkner Park is part of a mosaic of open space lands vital to Woodstock’s character, history and economy. We need coordination and efficiency, not separate fiefdoms.

It’s a rare thing when a transfer of public land comes with a large endowment, in this case $850,000. Woodstock is trustworthy and has a solid track record of managing trust funds and endowments for specific purposes over time. With wise management of funds and prudent spending, the endowment should keep its value while providing funding for Faulkner Park in perpetuity, requiring no taxpayer support.

There is a role for neighbors who love and use Faulkner Park, as so many of us do. But it doesn’t make sense for that role to include ownership of land, control of purse strings and ultimate decision-making. There are no legal roadblocks to town ownership. The town can and should step up and gladly accept this important transfer on behalf of us all.

TIM TRAVER

Taftsville

Mary Layton is committed to the vitality of Norwich

I am grateful that Mary Layton has chosen to run for a third term on the Norwich Selectboard. Her experience in this role, along with her 50-plus years as a Norwich resident, provide institutional and community levels of experience that will benefit all of Norwich.

At Selectboard meetings I have found Mary Layton to be even-handed, willing to listen, to question and to consider alternative solutions to difficult issues that face the town. Her accessibility as a community member is a gift to all who have questions or ideas, but don’t reliably attend Selectboard meetings. Behind the scenes, she is a team player willing to work with department heads, the town manager and other Selectboard or special committee members to address everything from updating town financial policies to managing road repair and federal reimbursement from the 2017 flooding (in half the time it took to accomplish similar repairs following Tropical Storm Irene).

Looking forward, Layton is focused on infrastructure improvements that will benefit the health and safety of all residents. These include upgrades to Tracy Hall and replacing the aging town fleet with “green” alternatives as the town moves toward meeting its fossil fuel reduction goals. As a community we face some big decisions in the years ahead, and I have confidence that Layton is the person to move the town in the right direction.

Whether she is volunteering her time to renovate the Root District Schoolhouse or focusing her energies on addressing affordable housing and child care for young families, her commitment to the vitality of our town embraces its history and shines a light on its future. That’s why I will vote for Mary Layton, again.

PAMELA PIPER

Norwich

Dan Fraser, Mary Layton represent their towns well

I am eager to support two selectboard members for reelection next week.

I have known Hartford’s Dan Fraser and Norwich’s Mary Layton for many decades, and my job involves dealing with boards and administrators from 30 towns in Windsor and Orange counties. I find both of them to be among the most professional, knowledgeable and open to discussion of any I deal with.

They are fair and collegial, express themselves well, make good decisions and represent their respective towns extremely well.

BOB HAYNES

Norwich

Column made my case for greater educational diversity

My interest is often drawn to legal dramas on television, and I enjoy the irony when prosecution or defense inadvertently makes a statement that undoes its case. Such was the case in Steve Nelson’s recent column (“Christian nationalism threatens US education,” Feb. 13), because certain statements by him reinforce the case for greater diversity in our educational system.

“Diversity” usually refers to the racial and sexual makeup of the faculty and students, but it can also refer to the outcome of the process, and it is clear Nelson fears the resulting graduates won’t have the uniform, monolithic mindset he desires. By way of disclosure, I am a product of the public education system, having graduated from high school in Newark, N.J., where I felt I received an excellent education 55 years ago. I graduated from secular and religious colleges, where I also received an excellent education. But such is no longer the case due to government mandates aimed not just at helping students learn how to think but also influencing what they think, which Nelson clearly champions.

Our son’s education consisted of five years of home schooling and eight years in two Christian schools, none of which was offset by vouchers. I participated by serving as an “adjunct faculty member” (a euphemism for substitute teacher) in one of his schools. He graduated with the ability to think critically, which served him well during his years in secular university.

Nelson laments that “we will never have powerful democratic insistence on facing climate change if the rising generations have wildly different understandings of science,” “we will never address social justice with national unity if families can opt out of all truths they find uncomfortable,” and “if schools imbue students with very different versions of our past they will have very different visions for our future.”

Malleable children’s minds are the province of parents and of God, not the state, and America didn’t get where it is in terms of innovation and diversity of thought by all of its citizens being in lockstep. So thanks to Steve Nelson for making my case for me. The defense rests.

WILLIAM A. WITTIK

Hartford

Thanks for professionalism at Lebanon vaccination event

I was fortunate to receive both doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at the Lebanon Armory. I want to commend the professionals from the New Hampshire National Guard, the Lebanon Fire Department and Alice Peck Day Memorial Hospital. Their calm professionalism on bitter cold and snowy days was reassuring in a fraught time.

Thank you for what you do.

DAVID McNALLY

Lebanon




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