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Orford Academy Up for Vote

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/2/2018 11:52:30 PM
Modified: 3/2/2018 11:52:40 PM

Orford Town Meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 13, in the gymnasium off Rivendell Academy off Route 25A. Voters will consider 18 warrant articles. Ballot voting for elective offices runs from 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Orford — Voters on Town Meeting Day face decisions ranging from whether to endorse the conversion of the former Orford Academy building into senior housing to a ballot-box choice between an incumbent selectman and a vehement opponent of the housing proposal.

The Rivendell Interstate School District, which owns the vacant, 167-year-old academy building next door to the current Rivendell Academy, is proposing to lease the structure to a Littleton-based nonprofit that re-develops former institutional buildings and large homes into apartments for the elderly and the disabled. An article on the Town Meeting warrant asks voters whether they favor the plan by the nonprofit Affordable Housing, Education and Development (AHEAD) agency to renovate the academy into 12 apartments for about $3.5 million, using grants, loans and tax credits to pay for it.

“There would be no financial cost to the district or to the taxpayers of (Orford, Fairlee, West Fairlee and Vershire),” district school board Chairman and Orford resident Marc DeBois said this week.

Orford Planning Board Chairman Jim McGoff, who is running against incumbent Selectman John Adams, insists that Orford residents would pay another way if the project goes forward.

“That Orford Academy deal is not a good deal for the town,” McGoff, who graduated from the school in 1974 and owns an auto salvage business in town, said this week. “We’re not going to get the property-tax dollars that we’d get if it was a regular nursing home set-up. If we were, I’d be 100 percent for this. … They don’t pay the school tax like everybody else has to pay, so (a proposed annual payment in lieu of taxes) doesn’t really help.”

Last July, two of the three members of the Selectboard, including Adams, voted to sponsor a $500,000 federal Community Development Block Grant that AHEAD needed for the renovations to the academy, despite opposition from McGoff and a majority of Planning Board members.

McGoff and other opponents also have expressed concern that some residents of the AHEAD complex might not be suitable to live next door to a school, and that Orford residents would not automatically get first dibs. AHEAD executive director Mike Claflin this week reiterated that only people age 62 and older are eligible for apartments, and that “we can’t discriminate based on where you come from.”

In addition to the vote whether to endorse the project, Orford residents on the Town Meeting floor will tackle a municipal operating budget of a little more than $1 million, about $57,000 more than voters agreed to raise from property taxes last year. The current tax rate for non-school municipal programs is $4.81 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

Adams, the chairman of the Selectboard and a former town treasurer, said the proposed budget increase includes $25,000 more for the police department, mostly to offer higher pay to candidates for the position of police chief. Christopher Kilmer, who had served as chief since 2008, resigned last year.

“We need to bring the salary more in line with the modern world,” Adams said. “We’ve had a couple of candidates, but when we started talking money, they said, ‘No. See you later.’ ”

McGoff, a former member of the town’s budget advisory committee, said that Orford doesn’t need to offer salaries closer to the rates in Hanover or Lebanon.

“We live in the town of Orford; to pay a chief of police $75,000 is way too much money,” McGoff said. “We don’t have the volume that the towns down there do. If Piermont can get a chief for $55,000, I don’t know why we can’t.”

Along with more money for a police chief, Adams said, the Selectboard is proposing “a 2½ percent wage increase for deserving people” on the town’s payroll.

In one of several warrant articles separate from the operating budget, town officials are asking taxpayers for almost $226,000 to replenish seven different capital-reserve funds for maintenance and replacement of vehicles and heavy equipment, upkeep of buildings and equipment and road and bridge work.

And from the capital-reserve fund for highway department trucks, the town is requesting permission to spend $97,000 to buy a 1.5-ton dump truck with plowing capacity, and to sell an existing one-ton truck in the fleet to raise money toward the purchase price of the new vehicle. At Town Meeting in 2017, voters shot down a similar proposal at the end of a debate that took more than an hour.

Another separate article on the warrant asks voters for $75,000 for paving of roads, with a particular emphasis on River Road.

In the other contested race for elected offices, Orford residents Terry W. Martin, Kelley J. Monahan and Harry Osmer are vying for two three-year terms on the Planning Board. Monahan is an incumbent on the board.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com and at 603-727-3304.




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