Newport votes down community center at Town Meeting

Valley News Correspondent
Tuesday, May 14, 2019

NEWPORT — At Tuesday’s Town Meeting, voters defeated a proposed $6.5 million community center, approved a $9.7 million budget, OKed a $4.5 million bond for upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant and re-elected two incumbent Selectboard members.

The community center article, which sought a $3.5 million bond and needed a 60% majority to pass, lost, 553-443, receiving just 44% of the vote.

Selectboard Vice Chairman Todd Fratzel and Town Manager Hunter Rieseberg both thought voter worries over taxes — particularly with the school district this year — led many to vote “no.”

“It is the school (tax) impact,” Fratzel said after the results were announced inside the town’s opera house. “They are just terrified of it. Everyone is talking between three and five dollars. And for most people it is a huge impact and they can’t stomach it.

“We had some people tell us, ‘We support it. Just not this year.’ ”

When voters approved the school budget and a teachers contract in March, the projected tax rate impact was $4.64 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

The community center, if it were built this coming year, would not affect taxes until 2021 at the earliest.

Rieseberg said 44% was a respectable result given the tax concerns and the fact that it was the voters’ first go at the issue.

“I think the taxpayers were under a lot of pressure this year, and I think a big project like this takes more than one visit to Town Meeting,” Rieseberg said.

Both he and Fratzel believe the Selectboard will not abandon the plans.

“If the Selectboard is so inclined, we’ll spend a year putting out information to the public,” Rieseberg said. “My sense is they will want to continue.”

If the board does decide to try again, the roughly $1.8 million in donations already received will be retained and added to continued fundraising to bring in the $3 million the town has promised to take in before construction starts, Rieseberg said.

Fratzel, disappointed at the results given months of work by the community center committee, said another problem is that costs will escalate, probably at least 6% over the next year.

Selectboard incumbents John Hooper, with 587 votes, and Jeff Kessler, with 418, defeated Herbert Tellor, 366, and Linda Wadensten, 277, for two three-year seats on the Selectboard.

Other approved articles included a zoning amendment on keeping hens, an incentive to exempt some taxes for new business, and a $4,000 payment to the Visiting Nurse and Hospice of Vermont and New Hampshire.

The two other defeated articles were for capital reserve fund appropriations for property revaluations and the district court building.

The balloting drew 24% of the town’s 4,177 registered voters.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.