SHAFTSBURY — In response to increasing requests for community appropriations articles for the March ballot, the Select Board is re-thinking how they should be presented to the voters.
Rather than limit the number of community organizations that can request funds, board Chairman Tim Scoggins said the board would present its budget to the voters for a floor vote on town meeting night without the appropriations requests, with the clear understanding that every article the voters approve the next day would increase the budget by that amount. In the past, the budget voted on at the floor meeting has assumed that all articles will pass.
"The numbers just keep going up, and more and more people want to be on the ballot," said Scoggins, who pointed to the increase from $58,000 in requests last year, to this year, which project to be over $70,000. Scoggins said that the select board has the authority to reject or change the dollar values of appropriations requests, and suggested the possibility of putting a cap on the total amount the voters can approve, with organizations receiving a percentage of what they requested if total requests exceed the cap. "So, if we decide we want to spend $60,000 max, and we come in, when all the paperwork settles, with $70,000 worth (of requests), then we take each one of them and multiply their request by six-sevenths, and put that on the ballot.
Board member Art Whitman said that emphasizing that each appropriation will increase taxes will encourage people to look closer at what they are approving. In recent years, almost all appropriations requests have passed, including all 25 last year. In 2014, only two were voted down, for the Park-McCullough House and the Bennington Rutland Opportunity Council, worth $1,000 and $1,700 respectively. The voters approved appropriations worth $1,500 and $1,700 to the two organizations in 2015. "Every time you're voting yes on this, it's going to increase your taxes," said Whitman, who said that he didn't feel comfortable cutting back appropriations, and that the voters should decide. Town Administrator David Kiernan said that all the articles being approved would represent an almost two cent per $100 in appraised property value increase in the tax rate.
The town's budget is projected to be slightly down from last year, not including appropriations. If all of the appropriations are adopted by voters, the total budget will be slightly up, due to the $10,000 increase in appropriations requests between this year and last year.
Another change from last year, said Kiernan, is that the Secretary of State has requested that reserve fund requests be moved from the Australian ballot to the floor vote. Last year, the voters approved about $67,000 for various reserve funds. As those should never have been separated out from the whole budget, which is approved on the floor, those will no longer appear on the ballot.
The board also discussed ongoing plans to place an article on the ballot regarding the construction of a new town garage near the transfer station on North Road. This would be the third time in three years that the select board has asked the town to vote on a new garage. In March of 2013, the voters turned down a proposal for a $1.5 million garage. Then, in November of that year, a $990,000 garage was also voted down, although by a much closer margin. Scoggins said some aspects of the projected cost are still being calculated, but it is expected to be even more affordable than the second proposal. The voters also approved last year putting $75,000 in a garage reserve fund, which will reduce the amount that the town would have to borrow in the form of a bond.
Shaftsbury resident Ed Corey, who has been a vocal proponent of putting any new garage in a different location, due to contamination at the site, spoke at the meeting, requesting that the board add a separate article to the ballot regarding the question of the garage's location. Corey said that, in his mind, the voters had not rejected the garage due to price, but because of the location. Scoggins disagreed, saying that the consensus in discussions he has had was that the garage remained too expensive. He did say that they had explored other options, but had not found any viable alternate locations for the garage. Scoggins asked the other board members if they would like to make a motion to put a question on the ballot regarding the location of the garage, but no one volunteered.
Shaftsbury resident Bob Holmes also spoke up on the topic, but sided with the board. "I think we've wasted enough years," he said, "I've been here twenty years and I've heard nothing but landfill for twenty years. We've elected a select board to make those decisions. The select board has invited the town, countless times, to participate at hearings, and meetings, and so on. It seems to me that we're beating a dead horse."
The Shaftsbury Select Board meets the first and third Monday of every month at 6:30 p.m. at Cole Hall on Buck Hill Road in Shaftsbury. Full recordings of their meetings are available on Catamount Access Television, and on the station's YouTube page.