Wednesday February 20, 2013

Stuart Hurd

The town's budget for FY 2014 is now posted and ready for the vote. I've outlined the budget and the tax rate impact in my last column and, once again, in the Manager's Message in the new Annual Report which is due out soon. It will also be on our website, www.benningtonvt.org. For those of you who missed my last column, the impact is estimated at $0.027, or in the range of a 3 percent increase.

We all expect that the voters will scrutinize these budgets and any additional ballot requests carefully before voting. Remember, the voters have the final say in these difficult times. The Annual Town Meeting will be held on the evening of March 4, the floor meeting, and March 5, the vote. The annual floor meetings for MAU and BSD occur just before the town's floor meeting.

The Select Board has three seats available. Seven candidates have filed to run, including incumbent, Sharyn Brush, the current vice chair. Incumbents Chris Oldham and Jason Morrissey have decided not to run. The others seeking election are Mike Bethel, Peter Brady, Tom Jacobs, John McFadden, Chuck Putney, and Gene Rowley. Those elected will be seated on April 1, 2013.

This year, both the MAU and BSD budgets are increased over last year. MAU is up in the range of 6 percent. BSD is up in the range of 19 percent. The impact on the school tax rate is not easy to estimate, but the estimates I've heard put the combined school tax rate increase in the range of $0.25. This may be impacted by state legislative action. As

I've said before, a clear and concise explanation from both boards would be helpful. Sean Marie Oller, chair of the MAU board, has written an op ed piece and expressed an interest in presenting a brief explanation to the Bennington Select Board as we move closer to the election.

The other major topic in the community is the BSD Board's design of, and potential vote for bonding and building, an addition to Bennington Elementary School. An apparent increase in student population is driving this project. I must add my voice to those who are calling for an exploration of sending the 5th graders to the middle school. The MAU chair has indicated a willingness to consider this. At the very least, the idea should be fully vetted, cost estimates developed, and the pros and cons explained before a $4.5 million addition is put before the voters. I may have missed this discussion at the BSD and MAU Board level during the last year. You certainly have my attention now.

At the Feb. 11 meeting, the Bennington Select Board met with representatives of the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center to review changes to the Putnam Deeded Gift. The Select Board acts as the trustee of some, but not all the lands, that the medical center sits on. This gift came to the former Village in 1912 from Henry W. Putnam and then to the town when consolidation occurred in 1969. The trust provides the town with the right to approve or deny uses of the lands the town owns for "delivery of health care services." SVMC has approached the town to see if the document could be changed to provide greater flexibility in managing its health care system, including expansion and new construction. The changes maintain the town's authority over use of the lands, protect it from liability should the new transactions not prove successful, and provides for cost recovery mechanisms in the event the hospital fails to comply with the restrictions. The board will act on the proposed changes at its next meeting.

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.

Stuart Hurd is Bennington's town manager. He writes a monthly column on town issues for the Banner.