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Norwich Approves A New Town Plan



Valley News Correspondent
Thursday, July 12, 2018

Norwich — The Norwich Selectboard voted on Wednesday night to approve a new Town Plan, after going without one since December 2016.

It also set the town property tax rate for the 2019 fiscal year at 50.35 cents per $100 of valuation, a 1.66 percent increase.

The Town Plan passed, 4-1, with only Selectwoman Linda Cook voting against it.

“I just want the public to know the process was not great,” Cook said. She referenced concerns raised by residents about the priorities articulated in the plan, as well as wording she found imprecise.

In introducing the plan, Selectwoman Mary Layton urged its passage but allowed for the possibility of future revisions.

“Having an adopted Town Plan by July 13 outweighs not having a plan,” she said.

The plan is similar to the one instituted in 2011; according to its introduction, this is by design. “This continues the long-standing practice in Norwich of alternating between comprehensive rewrites and minor updates of prior town plans, and helps manage the substantial workload associated with comprehensive revisions,” it reads.

The Two Rivers-Ottauquechee Regional Commission assisted in revising Norwich’s plan and deemed it compatible with its regionwide plan.

Jeff Goodrich, vice chairman of Norwich’s town Planning Commission, described the plan as a work in progress. “There are sections of the town plan we need to address,” he said. “Our priority needs to be how do we address the first chapter or two of the plan going forward.”

Articulated in the first two chapters are development and energy-usage goals and potential means of achieving them.

Goodrich stressed the role public feedback plays in the town commission’s work. “We have absolutely considered everything that’s been said and will continue to do so,” he said.

Past Selectboard discussions of the plan elicited questions and complaints about its prescriptions for land use, with some arguing it should prioritize affordable housing more.

Wednesday’s meeting was more perfunctory, with the Selectboard discussing the latest draft of the plan for about 10 minutes, then passing it.

The meeting was lightly attended, with half of the 15 people present either a member of the Selectboard or an employee of the Town Manager’s Office.

The new tax rate, which represents an $8 increase per $100,000 of assessed valuation, also passed by a 4-1 vote. Cook commended Town Manager Herb Durfee and Finance Director Roberta Robinson for moderating the rate increase, but still registered the lone vote against it.

Robinson attributed the nominally elevated rate in part to an unusually small increase in the town’s tax base.

“The grand list went up by less than 1 percent,” she said. “In the past it’s been like 3 percent.”

The tax rate also incorporates 16 percent of the town’s undesignated fund balance, money Durfee equated to a rainy-day fund.

“The concern I have is another storm someday,” he said. “I’d rather have it at 17 percent, because that would build more surety into the system.”

The total town expenditures are projected at $4.87 million, with $3.75 million to be raised in property taxes.

The tax figure reflects a desire to manage previous, unexpected town expenses.

“We’re trying to offset the overruns on the public-safety building as well as the department of public works,” Durfee said.

Gabe Brison-Trezise can be reached at g.brisontrezise@gmail.com.

Clarification

Norwich has set its municipal tax rate at 50.35 cents per $100 of valuation, an increase of less than a penny, or 1.66 percent. An earlier version of this story imprecisely described the new tax rate.