SHAFTSBURY — Residents of Shaftsbury took part in the annual Vermont tradition on Monday, gathering at Shaftsbury Elementary School for Town Meeting.
The school portion of Town Meeting began at 6:30 p.m., while the town portion began at 7:30 p.m. Both were recorded and broadcast by Catamount Access Television. Among the business conducted at the meeting, the townspeople approved the town's budget of $1,809,657 and set the wages and stipends of town officials.
School Board Chairman Fran Kinney opened the first part of the meeting and gave a brief report on the budget, which he said is projected to produce a flat tax rate, although he noted that a recent change by the Legislature could increase the rate by a penny per $100 in appraised property value. He said the state mandate of universal early childhood education was driving the budget up, but that a number of recent retirements has allowed them to hire younger staff members, which created a savings in the budget. He also spoke briefly about Act 46, and said Shaftsbury was engaged in discussions with a number of towns. "I'm not saying we're going to close our school or any of that stuff, we're just looking at our options," he said.
The Town Meeting, which was, as always, moderated by Tom Dailey, began with a ceremony honoring Shaftsbury firefighter Charlie Becker. The 91-year old Becker was honored with the Liberty Mutual Firemark Award, the first ever given to a firefighter from Vermont. Derik Whalen explained that the Liberty Mutual Firemark Award is presented annually to U.S. firefighters who best represent their communities through courageous valor and who best demonstrate the firefighter's selfless spirit. Becker has served the town of Shaftsbury's fire department for 66 years, and continues to this day. "Tonight we honor Mr. Becker for his over 66 years of service to his local community and to the state of Vermont," said Whalen.
Becker thanked everyone for their kind words.
In her report, state Rep. Alice Miller, D-Bennington-3, spoke primarily about Act 46. "The bill attempts to right-size schools to provide quality education for all children, at a price we can afford," said Miller, who pointed to increasing education costs while the number of students being served has trended downward. "Consolidation would provide kids with more opportunities. We have schools in this state with 42 kids, six per class," she added, pointing out that kids learn from kids, and that studies have shown that learning opportunities decrease when there are fewer than 15 children in a classroom.
She also spoke about paid sick leave for employees who have been with a business for over a year, "Do you want a food service worker coming to work and sneezing all over your kid's food? Of course not. But he can't afford to go home without a day's wages. Something had to be done, and that's why we passed this bill."
Voters on Tuesday will vote by Australian ballot at the Shaftsbury Fire House on Buck Hill Road from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Select Board members Ken Harrington and Art Whitman are both running unopposed for re-election. On the school board, there are six candidates vying for two seats, with Selectboard Chairman Tim Scoggins running against incumbent Jeffrey Leake, who was elected to the board last year, for a three-year seat, and incumbent Larry Johnson attempting to hold off three challengers for his two-year seat: Jared Della Rocca, Ed Molloy, and Todd Ordway. There are no races for any of the other town positions.
Other business to be decided on Tuesday includes the school's $3,900,377 budget, the town's record number of community appropriations requests, whether the town can borrow $30,000 to purchase a property adjacent to the transfer station on North Road, whether the town will exempt the Shaftsbury Community House from town and school taxes for five years, and whether or not a new town garage should be located on North Road, adjacent to the landfill site, should the voters later approve the financing of one. The article about the garage's location is non-binding, but Scoggins has said that the selectboard will honor the decision of the voters.
Scoggins gave a presentation on the articles that will be considered on Tuesday. "We want to know if the voters are going to allow us to put a garage at the landfill," he said, "If people are going to vote against it not because of the bond or the cost, but because of the location, that's something we need to know."
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at 802-447-7567, ext. 122.