Schools, Infrastructure Take Center Stage at Norwich Town Meeting

  • Karen Trombley, of Norwich, watches a short play presented before the opening of the Norwich, Vt., town and school meetings as residents arrive at Tracy Hall, Monday, March 5, 2018. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Monday, March 05, 2018

Norwich — Well over 100 residents gathered in the Tracy Hall auditorium on Monday night for the discussion phase of Town Meeting, where they mulled proposed increases to the school and town budgets and a request to borrow potential millions of dollars for infrastructure repairs stemming from July’s fierce rainstorm.

Above the increase in the proposed 2018-19 Marion Cross School budget, which is up 1.85 percent in gross spending for a total of $5.68 million, residents seeking to fund another fifth-grade teacher have asked to add another $100,000.

The Norwich School Board in January voted to make the request a separate article on the warning. School officials earlier this year tentatively estimated that, together with the assessment from the combined Hanover-Norwich Dresden School District, the Marion Cross budget would lead to a tax rate increase of 9 cents per $100 of assessed valuation, or $360 more on a $400,000 property.

School Board member Neil Odell cited ongoing changes in statewide educational finance, including a shortfall in Vermont’s education fund, as a factor in the expected tax increase in Norwich.

“It’s not just Norwich; it’s what goes on across the entire state,” he said. “We’re in this together, folks.”

During public comments, resident Gina des Cognets noted that Marion Cross rates among the best public schools in Vermont and argued that the town should pony up the money — including the teacher request — to continue that success.

“I hope we invest in our kids,” she said.

Anne Day, a former School Board member, said her sixth-grade son had dealt with class sizes at Marion Cross this year similar to those the fifth-grade parents were seeking to mitigate with another teacher.

“The kids were fine,” she said.

The town budget is a proposed $4.5 million, an increase of 0.9 percent that does not take into account outside spending articles of about $360,000 that include $270,000 in operational costs to run the town library.

If voters approve all municipal spending, town officials anticipate a property tax rate increase of about 1.4 cents per $100 of valuation. That translates to another $56 in taxes on the same property.

Town officials in a separate article are requesting authorization to borrow up to $4 million to pay for infrastructural repairs related to a devastating July 1 storm. The Federal Emergency Management Agency may reimburse up to 75 percent of that cost, with the state of Vermont pitching in another 12.5 percent and the remainder falling to Norwich.

Monday night’s meeting was a forum for discussion about the Town Meeting warning; residents may vote on all articles and elections from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. today at Tracy Hall.

On the ballot, School Board members Odell and Lauren Morando Rhim are unopposed for re-election.

Selectman Steve Flanders is retiring from his two-year seat, clearing the way for Claudette Brochu, Rob Gere and Leah Romano to run.

Residents on Monday applauded Flanders and also saluted Fire Chief Steve Leinoff, who is stepping down after 40 years of service as a firefighter in Vermont.

In other elections, Selectboard Chairwoman Mary Layton faces a challenge from Marcia Calloway for a three-year seat.

During the Selectboard’s presentation, Layton gave an update on Town Manager Herb Durfee, who has been absent since a car crash last month in Colchester, Vt., that sent him to the hospital with serious injuries.

 “We miss him sorely,” she said. “He’s recovering steadily, and we hope to see him back to work soon.”

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com.