Bethel Town Budget Plan Up Slightly

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/27/2017 12:37:48 AM
Modified: 2/27/2017 10:17:03 AM

Bethel Town Meeting will start on Tuesday, March 7, at 10 a.m., and the annual school-district meeting follows at 7 p.m. Both sessions will take place at the Whitcomb High School gym.

Bethel — Along with deciding whether to spend $2.17 million on town operations and $5.3 million to run the Bethel School, voters at Town Meeting next week will replace at least one incumbent on the Selectboard.

A year after townspeople at the annual gathering voted to expand the Selectboard from three members to five, Lisa Hill will not, if nominated from the floor, seek another three-year term, in part because of the new arrangement.

“With a three-member board, I felt it served the public better,” Hill, whose three-year term expires this year, said recently. “Business had to be done in public. If two people can get together privately and talk about town business — not that I think it’s happened with the current board — they need just one more member to come to a Selectboard meeting for a vote that’s a fait accompli.”

Last year’s Town Meeting vote to expand the board, after several failed attempts in recent years, followed incumbent Carl Russell’s announcement that he would not accept a nomination for re-election if the expansion didn’t go through. This month, Russell, now chairman of the board, said that he continues to believe in the benefits of informal discussions between two members.

“It’s been very good so far,” Russell said. “Everybody brings some unique perspectives.”

After the 2016 vote to expand the board, townspeople re-elected Russell to a three-year term, Vanessa Brown to a two-year term and Chris Jarvis to a one-year term. Along with Moe Brigham, a former selectman whom the board appointed last spring to serve through this year’s Town Meeting, Jarvis and Brown are “all carrying pretty good weight as far as understanding issues and participating,” Russell said.

He added that “I think all three are open to serving again” if nominated from the floor at Town Meeting.

Russell said that the current board spent much of the past year keeping its request for total municipal spending for fiscal year 2018, including articles on the warning, to $2.17 million, an increase of about $105,000 that officials said would raise the municipal portion of the property-tax rate to 89 cents per $100 of assessed valuation. The town report estimates that if that rate holds, the owner of a house worth $200,000 would pay $1,786 in property taxes.

At the 2016 Town Meeting, voters trimmed $68,000 from the previous Selectboard’s request.

“We’ve put quite a bit of work into making sure it didn’t change too much,” Russell said. “We heard loud and clear last year. This year we really took some time to continue the process of squeezing, to build a little more efficiency.”

The current Bethel School Board also took the hint, lowering its requested bottom line to $5.3 million from the $5.6 million voters approved a year ago. In the school portion of the town report, school officials estimate that the homestead tax rate would rise about 3 cents per $100 of assessed valuation.

Among the school administration’s requests for money for new programs that the board set aside for at least a year were salaries for teachers for a pre-kindergarten program and a science teacher for expanding an outdoor education program.

“There was a lot of time spent making decisions that were not what we would like to make,” School Board Chairman David Eddy said. “But for what we need to do, we came up with this budget.”

Eddy, who said he will pursue a fifth term if nominated from the floor, added that the board was reluctant to add programs before Bethel, Royalton and Rochester figure out how and whether to consolidate their school districts.

“We know that we’re probably not going to be who we are in another budget cycle,” Eddy said. “One of the reasons I’m willing to serve again is that with this whole Act 46 and supervisory unions consolidating, there’s so much information, so much background that I know, I’d like to see to the end. … I’m hoping to have some insight that will be helpful.”

At the end of her first term, board member Nancy Cyphers said that she would run for another two-year stint if nominated from the floor.

“I’m really excited about being on that board,” said Cyphers, who taught elementary school in Bethel for more than 30 years before retiring. “I want to continue helping the children, the parents and the community. A lot of people helped me as a teacher, and I’ve taught the children of children I taught. I feel like I owe it to the town.”

David Corriveau can be reached at

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