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Woodstock looks to expand public safety services

  • At the Woodstock Emergency Services building, EMT and fire fighter David Burgess restocks supplies in cramped quarters next to an ambulance on Friday, Feb. 21, 2020 in Woodstock, Vt. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Woodstock Fire Chief David Green works at his desk on Friday, Feb. 21, 2020 in Woodstock, Vt. Residents will vote on a plan to expand the emergency-services staff and renovate the emergency services building. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Misha McNabb, emergancey services division director, and David Burgess, an EMT and fire fighter, work in McNabb's office on Friday, Feb. 21, 2020 in Woodstock Vt. Residents will vote on a plan to expand the emergency-services staff and renovate the emergency services building. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Woodstock, Vt., residents will vote on a plan to expand the emergency-services staff and renovate the emergency services building at Town Meeting. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/21/2020 10:14:45 PM
Modified: 2/21/2020 10:15:51 PM

WOODSTOCK — Officials throughout Vermont have long fretted about the hollowing out of towns where second-home ownership is common and full-time residents are aging, and Woodstock property taxpayers may soon pay a price for the trend.

With its pool of volunteers shrinking and with emergency calls spiking, officials head into Town Meeting seeking to borrow up to $4.5 million to renovate and expand its public safety building and to spend $593,000 in the coming year to pay a full-time staff of emergency responders.

Fire Chief David Green is preparing to make the case for these initiatives on the Town Meeting floor next Saturday, and voters will rule on them in Australian balloting on March 3.

“Woodstock is becoming a community of retirees and second-home owners, and a lot of these people are aging in place rather than living in nursing homes,” Green said on Friday. “In the past three years, our annual call volume has been 25% higher than in earlier years.”

In the meantime, he added, in a housing market that’s “not younger-generation friendly,” the town is running out of volunteers a to undergo EMT training as and to staff ambulances.

“Right now,” Green said, “we’re very close to not being able to cover some shifts. We can’t guarantee a response to calls, particularly when two come in at the same time.”

Two full-time emergency medical technicians — Green is often one of them — currently are on duty on weekdays only, leaving coverage of other times to volunteers. To close the gap in coverage, the town is asking voters to raise $520,000 to pay and provide benefits to eight full-time staff members, and a one-time appropriation of $73,000 to equip them.

If voters approve the move to 24/7 coverage, Green estimates that the property-tax bill on a home valued at $400,000 would go up by $280 in 2021 and by $240 in 2022.

“We’re looking at multiple ways to bring that cost down over time, including agreements with surrounding towns,” Green said. “I hope to get this down to something that’s way more reasonable.”

The public-safety building project includes plans to renovate the existing 6,500-square-foot facility on Route 4 east of downtown, and to add 5,000 square feet out back to house vehicles and firefighters.

Among occupational-safety issues that Green and Selectboard Chairman and former Fire Chief Butch Sutherland recently identified, the current building lacks sprinklers, fire alarms and insulation, and it runs on electrical wiring that goes back to the 1950s, when the building began life as a car dealership.

The town’s proposed operating budget of $5.9 million will be determined on the floor at Town Meeting next Saturday. While town officials are proposing to spend about $100,000 less in fiscal year 2021 than the total that voters approved in 2019, the property taxpayers’ share would go up by $155,000, to more than $4 million.

On the March 3 Australian ballot, Woodstock voters face one contest for elective office: Keri Cole, currently a member of the Woodstock Village board of trustees, is challenging Woodstock Selectboard member Ray Bourgeois for a three-year term.

On the education side of the ballot, the Windsor Central Modified Unified Union School District asks voters whether it should merge with the Barnard School District. If voters say yes, the regional organization will ask the supporting towns for permission to spend almost $21.8 million in 2020-21, with property taxpayers picking up almost $16.9 million. Union school district officials estimate that such spending would amount to $18,763 per student, an increase of 2.82%.

Rejection of the merger would put the proposed union district budget at almost $20.7 million, of which property taxpayers would foot nearly $15.7 million. In the absence of Barnard, that budget would result in per-pupil spending of $18,754, an increase of 3.27%.

Town Meeting will be held on Saturday, Feb. 29, at the Town Hall Theatre. Voting by Australian ballot will take place there on Tuesday, March 3, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. The Windsor Central Modified Unified Union School District meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. on March 9 in the Teagle Library at Woodstock Union High School and Middle School.

David Corriveau can be reached at dcorriveau@vnews.com.




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