This is a very real opportunity to reduce the education taxes in the communities that make up the SVSU. If our towns were to accept a merger to the "preferred model", that is one board in a pre K through 12 school district with one budget, and vote to do so by July 1, 2016, the newly formed district would see its education tax rate reduced $0.10 in the first year, $0.08 in the second, $0.06 in the third, $0.04 in the fourth, and $0.02 in the fifth year. The new district charter could be written to prevent closing of a local school without a vote of that town thereby maintain our local schools. A concern voiced in the latest meeting was how would money be raised to fund new schools if there was a need. Given that the education tax rate is being reduced each year for five years, the new district could establish a reserve to set monies aside for future needs without increasing the rate over the current level. It is a truly important opportunity for all the SVSU. Using the "preferred model", it would be helpful if the Superintendent's office could provide a comparative analysis by town using current Grand Lists, current budgets, and current student populations. I'm sure there are many hurdles to overcome, but the Committee, working with the Superintendent, has the knowledge and the ability to get over them.
At the recent Select Board meeting, the Board adopted an Ordinance regulating, to the extent allowed by law, the screening of ground-mounted solar arrays. It will not take effect for 60 days and will not have any standing in those solar proposals already in the Public Service Board's (PSB) pipeline, but it brings Bennington up to speed with what the Vermont Legislature allowed in its last session. It does give the town a greater say in how future proposals are considered at the PSB level.
In my last column, I discussed how the Town would move forward when considering the debt of $1.5 million arising from T.S. Irene and FEMA's denial of the Town's final appeal. The Select Board has authorized the Manager and Finance Director to seek proposals in the Spring of 2016 for paying off the debt over 15 years. In developing the FY2017 budget, now underway, we will be using an estimated cost of $140,000. The 15 year term minimizes the interest the Town must pay and provides for a manageable cost addition to the budget.
Putting on one of my other hats, as a member of the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce Board and a member of its Executive Committee, I am pleased to let you know that the search for a new Executive Director is proceeding according to plan. We hope to have a new Director employed before the New Year. I take my hat off to those employees at the Chamber's office and to the Executive Committee members who have been lending a hand keeping the Chamber functioning at a high level. The Chamber Board is made up of a hard working group of business people. We are always seeking new members to the Chamber organization. If your business is not a member, please contact Marie Shutts at the Chamber office (802-447-3311). She'll help you through the process. It will make the Chamber stronger and even more diverse.
I want to take a moment to recognize the efforts of the Park and School Streets neighborhood.
Residents gathering together to form a Neighborhood Watch. We, here at the Town Offices, will help any way we can.
Remember, if anyone has any questions or suggestions arising from this column or on any town matters, please contact me at 442-1037 or stop in at the Town Offices on South Street.