Woodstock voters approve $5.9 million budget, money for energy coordinator

  • Volunteer Molly Maxham, 16, right, waits to transport the microphone to the next speaker as Jason Drebitko, left, questions the Selectboard during the Woodstock, Vt., Town Meeting Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020. Voters approved the $5.9 million budget by voice. (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 photographs — James M. Patterson

  • Woodstock Fire Chief David Green listens as his pre-recorded presentation on proposed upgrades to the town's emergency facilities plays during a public information session preceding Town Meeting in Woodstock, Vt., Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020. Voters will decide on the $4.5 million expansion plan on Tuesday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. James M. Patterson

  • Selectboard Member Mary Riley, right, greets Bill Kerbin, who will become Woodstock's municipal manager on March 23, and his wife Karen Emerson, left, as they arrive at the Woodstock, Vt., Town Meeting Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020. Kerbin is coming to Woodstock after serving as town manager in Onancock, Va. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Woodstock Selectboard Member Mary Riley, middle, responds to a question from a voter during debate on the town budget during Town Meeting in Woodstock, Vt., Saturday, Feb. 29, 2020. Selectboard Member Jill Davies is at left, and Selectboard Chairman Butch Sutherland is at right. (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 — James M. Patterson

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 2/29/2020 10:27:53 PM
Modified: 2/29/2020 10:27:50 PM

WOODSTOCK — Facing increases in both the town and school budgets, along with proposals to expand the town’s public safety services, voters let little spending escape scrutiny during their annual Town Meeting on Saturday.

While ultimately approving a $5.9 million budget and additional expenditures totaling $3.4 million, residents expressed concern about the number of infrastructure investments on this year’s warning, some of which remain to be voted on by Australian ballot Tuesday, and a seeming lack of a comprehensive master plan.

“Voting on articles in isolation presents us with a situation where we get our tax bills and our jaws drop,” Woodstock resident Jason Drebitko said. “We need a smart, balanced plan for infrastructure investment.”

Other voters gathered in the Town Hall Theatre echoed the sentiment that the town’s priorities seemed unclear as they scanned expenditures on road paving, wastewater treatment plant funds and recreational improvements in addition to proposals to renovate and expand the public safety building and hire additional full-time emergency responders.

“We’re hoping that by your vote on Tuesday, we see what your priorities are,” Selectboard member Mary Riley said.

“I think you’ve laid out our work for next year,” added Selectboard member Jill Davies.

The approved budget reflects a 3.8% increase over last year’s budget, due largely to increases in town employee salaries and benefits. It also includes funds for repairing sidewalks and curbs in the town, a popular tourist destination.

Voters also approved a $150,000 proposal to pave several sections of road in town and gave the green light to improvements of the Vail Field tennis and basketball courts by approving $25,000 more than the Selectboard had requested. The town has been setting money aside for improvements for a few years and was $50,000 short of $210,000 needed to rebuild the 40-year-old courts.

“Here’s an example of trying to prioritize infrastructure that’s high-value (in attracting new families to town),” Drebitko said. “Why don’t we fund the whole thing now?”

After some debate, voters also agreed to raise $37,000 to hire an energy coordinator who would serve seven area towns, with the goal of reducing annual energy use and costs and greenhouse gas emissions. Supporters said the coordinator, who would be hired for one year, would help provide leadership on energy use issues and potentially save the town money. If one or more of the other towns in the proposed agreement — Barnard, Norwich, Pomfret, Sharon, Strafford and Thetford — reject the proposal, the position could potentially be downsized to part-time, Selectboard members said. Thetford also approved the position Saturday.

Total spending approved Saturday, aside from the sewer budget raise, will increase taxes on a $200,000 home by $81. The sewer budget increase will add $57-$114 to a household’s annual sewer bill, depending on household size.

During a meeting that stretched well into the afternoon, voters also deliberated over numerous ballot items, including a pair of proposals aimed at providing better emergency coverage for the town’s aging population.

One is a $4.5 million proposal to renovate and expand the town’s emergency services building. It would be paid for with a 30-year bond that would add $23 to the tax bill on a $200,000 home in the first year, $61 in the second year, and decreasing amounts thereafter. The second is a $593,000 proposal to hire additional full-time emergency responders in order to provide 24-hour emergency coverage for the town.

Voters mostly voiced support for the proposals, although some urged the planning committee to make the building plans more energy-efficient and others asked whether the changes could be made incrementally instead of all at once.

Fire Chief David Green said the public safety building is in dire need of repairs and staffing the EMT crew has become increasingly challenging.

“We’re losing members fast. We’re really at a breaking point,” he said.

Sari White, an emergency responder for nearly 30 years, urged voters to talk to responders before making their decisions.

“We need these people,” she said, describing grueling overnight shifts for meager pay. “Some of us are getting tired.”

Voting by Australian ballot will take place at the Town Hall Theater on Tuesday 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.




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