Voters will tackle town meetingquestions

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ARLINGTON — On March 5, 2019, by a nearly four-to-one margin, voters here approved the creation of a town administrator to oversee the municipality's day-to-day operations. Supporters cast the proposal as a way to modernize town government and free up the Select Board to focus on broader strategic goals.

Almost a year later, after a round of interviews by an advisory search committee yielded no viable candidate, the position has yet to be filled — and debate over its specifics has continued.

This month, after a

debate that spanned multiple public meetings, the Select Board authorized the committee to consider both full-time and part-time candidates — as opposed to only the latter, as it did in the previous search — for a targeted starting date of June 1. The board expects to pay the full-time administrator a $60,000 salary, plus health insurance benefits.

Next month, when voters consider the first eight warning articles at the first part of this year's Town Meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. March 2 at Arlington

Memorial High School's Mack Performing Arts Center, they will have the opportunity to revisit the town-administrator issue, though somewhat indirectly.

The Select Board's proposed $1.6 million budget, the fifth article, includes $50,000 for the town administrator — more than enough to cover the six months he or she is expected to work this year.

Select Board contest

The next day, in the high school's gymnasium, polls will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. for voters to consider articles 9 through 41, the first of which pertains to the selection of town officers.

In the lone contested race, Vermont State Police Sgt. Todd Wilkins, who chairs the Arlington School District board and coaches the high school boys varsity soccer team, is challenging incumbent Keith Squires for a three-year term on the Arlington Select Board.

Squires has been a member of the board for decades and is its current appointed chairman. He has also served as the town's interim administrator.

As Wilkins became more involved with matters of town government — he chaired the Arlington Area Renewal Project's governance committee, advocating for the creation of the town administrator position — "I thought, 'It's time for a change,'" he said in an interview last month.

If elected, Wilkins would become at least the second coach of a local high school sports team in recent memory to serve on a select board. Chad Gordon, who coaches the Mount Anthony football team, is currently a member of the Bennington Select Board, though he is not seeking reelection this year.

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Wilkins said he'd like to see the town prioritize attracting young families to Arlington and work more collaboratively with the school board.

In an email on Tuesday, Squires cited infrastructure projects the town has completed, including the rebuilding of roads and bridges, during his 37 years of service on the board.

He also noted the expected hiring of the town administrator. "I feel that I will be able to offer assistance that will help that person learn some of the basics about the Town of Arlington," Squires wrote.

The board "has always worked very hard to maintain and improve all of the services in town" while keeping in mind the town's needs and what taxpayers can afford, Squires added.

Other items

The proposed budget, which would require the municipal tax rate to increase by about 0.05, or $50 per $100,000 of property value, includes year-to-year spending increases for the town's fire, highway and recreation departments.

The prospective increase in fire department spending includes $75,000 — $15,000 more than last year — for a capital reserve fund for replacement of fire trucks. A study of the department that is expected to begin this spring will assess, among other matters, whether the town's reserves will be "adequate to replace the equipment when the time comes," according to a copy of an agreement between the department's affiliated nonprofit and the firm leading the study.

Appropriations for the Martha Canfield Memorial Library are slated to increase from $19,300 to $21,500.

"In addition to normal small increases of expenses, the Board of Trustees has been working toward bringing staff salaries to be in line with salaries at comparable libraries in Vermont," director Phyllis Skidmore wrote in an email. "One of the reasons for doing this is to look forward to any future staff changes. If salaries are not equitable, hiring quality staff can be that much more difficult."

"The percentage of the increase is the same for the other towns in our service area, Sunderland, Sandgate and Shaftsbury," the director added.

Voters on March 3 will also consider whether to join a regional communications union district, an entity that, once formed, is likely to pursue a state grant to study whether it could eventually bring high-speed internet to southern Vermont.

State Rep. Cynthia Browning is running unopposed for re-election for a two-year term on the Select Board.

Contact Luke Nathan at lnathan@benningtonbanner.com.


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