Winhall Approves Budgets, and makes short work of it, too

WINHALL - Winhall voters approved both the town and school and budgets without incident on Tuesday in what was one of the shorter Town Meetings in recent memory.

The school budget of $3,081,936 was passed in a meeting that lasted about a half hour. Following the school board meeting, voters approved the town's $3,517,840 budget, which it is projected will increase the tax rate about 3.5 cents from .3423 cents per $100 of assessed property value to .3783 cents per $100.

Vice Chairman of the Select Board William Schwartz - who was running unopposed for a three-year term - was re-elected to the board with 63 votes.

Unlike the past two years, it was the town side of the meeting that generated the most discussion. One of the articles that led to some discussion was an appropriation request by GNAT-TV for $2,000 to help offset the costs of videotaping Winhall Select Board and other municipal meetings. The article was defeated by the approximately 50 people in attendance.

Schwartz said the board did not feel as though the appropriation should have been able to be included on the Town Meeting Warning. GNAT-TV petitioned to have the article included on the warning.

"Since the petition came in though the Secretary of State came out with opinions about what towns can appropriate for and what they can't," said Schwartz. "If you notice, now I know, they're all social services. They're all town facilities or specific social services that are set up." Another non-binding (advisory) article that generated a rather lengthy discussion centered around whether or not the town should retain ownership of the former Town Hall building located on 3 River Road.

The voters on hand had differing opinions about what to do with the building. While most felt that the town should keep it, there were some who felt that the town should not continue to maintain it. The cost of maintaining the building on an annual basis - a line item which had been included in the budget citizens had approved for the coming year - is $7,000. Ultimately voters approved the article, advising the Select Board to repair and maintain the building.

Under other business one item that was discussed was damage caused by the fire at the town garage earlier this year. Along with the garage, the town lost two trucks and a grater.

"Insurance is telling us that [for] the two trucks we're going to get $138,750. To replace those two trucks we're looking at about $340,000-$350,000, somewhere in that area," said Oakes. "By your approving the budget today we have enough in reserves to take care of the truck issue."

As for the grater, the town is planning to buy it back for salvage, invest about $15,000 in parts and restore it. Oakes said that insurance wanted to give them $121,000 for the grater, but that a new one would cost $275,000. If they restore the grater, Blanchard said they anticipate it will last about five years.

On the school side, there was some discussion over an article that would have paid a lower tuition rate for of the two students attending Long Trail School - $13,500 - than that of the a current LTS student and the Burr and Burton Academy tuition of $15,400.

"I believe that every kid should get the same opportunity. It should be the same money or the same venue and we don't have a venue so your job is to offer the same money," said resident Teresa Ameden said. "That's my opinion as a tax payer."

School board member Christine Mackenzie said that while she appreciated Ameden's position, she said the board was trying to remain out of the penalty threshold.

"What the school board is trying to do is find a sustainable model that keeps us out of the penalty box because that's a bigger threat to everybody." said Mackenzie. "Now if we were to say 'Well everybody gets the same,' but we want to stay out of the penalty threshold then we would be putting ourselves in a situation where we would no longer necessarily be able to be a sending town so it would bump tuition for Burr and Burton by a $1,000. So, it's not an easy position for us."

The remainder of the articles passed.

Mackenzie - who was running unopposed - was re-elected to a 3-year term for school director with 75 votes.


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