$1.8M budget set, re-elects board members

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LONDONDERRY — It took nearly four hours, but Londonderry Town Meeting voters worked through a 22-item agenda on Tuesday morning, setting a $1.84 million budget for fiscal 2020, setting aside $80,000 for the Phoenix Fire Company to purchase a new truck, and approving $100,000 for study and design of upgrades to Town Hall, the town garage, and the town office building.

With coffee and doughnuts waiting in the basement of town hall, and middle school students from Flood Brook Union School watching from the balcony, voters agreed with a Select Board-offered amendment to cut the town's contract with the Vermont State Police to $15,000 from $40,000. They allocated $120,000 to the highway equipment reserve fund, and approved $5,000 for a bike trail at Pingree Park. And the budget, which increased by $56,161.74, did not generate any discussion at all.

So why did it take four hours?

Voters bogged down on whether to cut $1,200 from an appropriation to Greater Northshire Access Television before approving the $2,000 the public access TV provider had requested.

Proposals on whether a $5,307 allocation to Southeastern Vermont Economic Development should be sent to a committee, or halved to $2,500, were debated and eventually defeated.

That debate — which, a number of voters pointed out, was nearly identical to a lengthy discussion on the same topic last year — produced the only standing division of the house, on a motion to cut the funding to $2,500.

The motion failed, with 50 voting no and 32 voting yes, and the full funding passed by voice vote.

Article 20, however, was a real doozy.

That proposal, to provide $5,000 to the Mountain Valley Medical Center to provide assistance to uninsured patients, got stuck in the mud when voters realized that the warning incorrectly listed the facility as the Mountain Valley Medical Clinic.

That flummoxed voters as well as moderator Doug Friant, because warning agenda items cannot be changed once they're printed. So simply editing "Clinic" to "Center" was not possible. And a number of voters, alluding to the financial crisis facing Springfield Hospital and Springfeld Medical Care Systems, wanted reassurance that the funds would be spent as intended.

That resulted in multiple amendments from voters seeking to clarify the item. But agreement on what language worked best proved difficult, and in the end the amendments failed, and the appropriation passed as written.

Voters heard from State Rep. Kelly Pajala, who is also Londonderry's Town Clerk. She addressed the debate on proposed changes to the Taconic & Green pre-kindergarten program, and urged residents with children approaching pre-K age to be in contact with Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union officials about their needs. "The more information the SU has, the better the long-term result is going to be," she said.

Pajala also said that she has been told the rural clinics operated by Springfield Medical Care Systems are not in danger of closing.

The state police contract was on the warning for $40,000, but Select Board Chairman James Ameden motioned to amend the contract to $15,000. He said that in conversations with Westminster Barracks Lt. Anthony French, he was told the barracks doesn't have the staffing to offer more than three hours per week.

That led to a question from a resident: "Why bother?"

But Amaden stressed that the $15,000 is a budgeting figure, and that the board still felt State Police were a better option than the Windham County Sheriff's Department or Winhall Police. And board member Robert Forbes added that the town is only billed for hours worked under the contract.

In debate on voter appropriations to non-profits, resident John Barry argued that since Manchester gave GNAT $2,000, and since Londonderry is 40 percent of Manchester's size, it should pay 40 percent as much. But a number of residents, including GNAT board member Robert Ellis, hailed the station for its coverage of local government and service to nonprofits and schools, and the motion was soundly defeated.

Voters also re-elected the current slate of town officers, including Select Board incumbents Georgianne Mora and Taylor Prouty, moderator Doug Friant, listers Sandra Clark and Julie Adams, first constable Roger Sheehan, delinquent tax collector Joan Dayton, town agent Alex Alexander, cemetery commissioner Daniel Cobb, and trustee of public funds Michael Goodbody.

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