SHAFTSBURY >> The Selectboard met for their regular meeting on Monday and worked on finalizing the details of the budget and the March town meeting day ballot.
The board finalized a last minute addition to the community appropriations requests, despite the deadline to be added to the ballot having already passed, because information about the deadline had not been properly disseminated. The request was from the Bennington radio station, WBTN, and was for $2,000. "We don't have a clear policy on that," said chairman Tim Scoggins, "We communicate our policy to the previous year's community appropriation requests, and let them know what the deadline is. The deadline is typically Nov. 15 for getting those in. WBTN didn't know that."
According to the paperwork the organization submitted to the town, WBTN, which is operated by Shires Media, "is a voice for the community and provides emergency services, school closings, weather updates, E.A.S. (Emergency Alert System), and Amber Alerts. WBTN assists nonprofits and charities, provides airtime to town supervisors, announces local events, broadcasts public service announcements, and provides the emergency services listed above." Scoggins said the requirements to get on the ballot are not available online at this time. The town does not currently require petitions, and there is not an official written procedure in place.
Appropriations requests are up 18 percent in Shaftsbury this year, once the WBTN request is included, from $61,000 to $72,000. In total, the difference between the tax rate with no requests approved and with all of the requests approved is about $.02 per $100 in appraised property value. For someone with a home worth $200,000, that would equal $40.
"The Nov. 15 deadline is set kind of arbitrarily," said Town Administrator David Kiernan, "We don't have that written down anywhere, so there's nowhere that someone could reasonably search to find that, and we just put these out to people who submitted them last year. Kiernan said WBTN is one of three new organizations represented this year, along with the Martha Canfield Library in Arlington and the Turning Point Center. Selectman Ken Harrington suggested that such a policy should be drafted. Kiernan said, after town meeting, he would draft some model policies for the board, the prevent this confusion from happening again.
Scoggins also brought up again the concept of the Southern Vermont Economic Development Zone, and suggested that the town budget some money for the project. The SVEDZ was created in legislation last May, to foster cooperation between Bennington and Windham Counties to combat declining population and economic conditions in the southern part of the state. "We all agree what the report is saying is that the ball is in our court," he said, "and in terms of acting on that, showing that we can be leaders and that we do think this is important, and something worth doing, I'm suggesting that we budget some money for that."
Scoggins said he had been in conversation with Tom Jacobs, the chairman of the Bennington Selectboard. In those conversations, the two had considered having town contribute money based on population to a startup project develop a comprehensive economic development strategy, with Bennington contributing about $20,000 and Shaftsbury contributing about $3,500. Scoggins also reached out to local legislators, including representative Alice Miller, to see if they could help encourage other towns to get involved as well. "I think what's needed here is leadership, and we should step up and say, yeah, we're willing to do it, and let them follow us," he said, although he acknowledged that without Bennington moving forward, nothing will come of this.
"None of us like the direction we're going," he added, "That report is the closest thing to anybody trying to do anything about it that we've heard, at least in a coordinated way. There are little pockets of activity around, but what's needed is coordination for the entire region. This is our way of saying, we're onboard, let's see what we can do."
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.