Proposed garage meets some resistance

Tuesday March 5, 2013

SHAFTSBURY -- A replacement town garage was contended by some residents during Shaftsbury’s floor meeting, where voters also approved a fiscal year 2014 town budget totaling $1,854,628.

Select Board Chairman Lon McClintock called that a slight overall reduction from last year’s spending, or basically a wash for local tax bills. Assuming an equivalent Grand List, the tax rate for fiscal year 2014 was estimated at $0.3255 (a decrease of $0.0029 from 2013), not including a town garage project on the ballot today.

Besides a contested Select Board race, the chief issue for Shaftsbury voters will be whether to bond up to $1,550,000 for the replacement garage, which was called "too much" by some residents on the floor during an extended back-and-forth discussion.

MSK Engineering President James Secor and McClintock reviewed the town garage plans that date back to a 2009 facilities study of town buildings, including Cole Hall and the now 44-year old garage.

McClintock said that study found the current garage roof has "less than one-half of the weight-bearing capacity required by state code" for snow load. In addition to the structure being in poor condition, he said its small size forced the town to store much of its highway equipment outdoors.

The planned wood frame, 8,720-square-foot replacement garage would be situated on a 17-acre town plot, along with sheds for storage and salt and sand, next to the transfer station. The effect on the town tax rate of the 20-year bonded project was estimated at $0.008 in 2014, or about $16 of additional taxes on a $200,000 home. That amount rises to $0.028 in 2015 before falling in future years -- an estimated tax impact of $55 to $36 between 2015 to 2034 on a $200,000 home.

The proposed structure was referred to as a "Taj Mahal" by two residents.

Another speaker in favor of the proposal compared the tax impact to "a cup of coffee a week."

Not running for a new term as the board’s chair, McClintock said Monday his time on the board had been an "exceptional experience."

"I met a lot of friends and neighbors I never knew (whom) I came to enjoy," he continued. McClintock received standing applause later in the evening in appreciation for his service.

Summarizing recent fiscal years, McClintock reported a number of good budgetary signs with just "one blip" -- roof repairs to the fire department roof needed after Tropical Storm Irene. Goals in fiscal year 2014 include new road and sidewalk work and a redesigned town website.

An available questionnaire allowed feedback for the Planning Commission, in the process of revising the town plan. The one-page survey quizzed residents about growth, existing housing stock and jobs, and the future direction of Shaftsbury.

At its floor meeting prior to the town’s, Shaftsbury school officials thanked outgoing Principal James Harwood for his five years of service. "Watching him during the day when I come in, it’s a special thing to have. He will be hard to replace," said school board Chairman Francis Kinney.

Queried by Karen Mellinger as to how the school is prepared for the potential impact of the change in North Bennington’s elementary school -- from a public district to an independent one -- Kinney said tuition money would "follow that student," regardless of whether the pupil required special education services. Kinney said Shaftsbury had a tuition policy in place to accommodate incoming students, but added that school officials would look at that policy again in the future.

In his last report, Harwood said the word that came to his mind over the past five years was "change" -- including increased enrollment and seven new classroom teachers through retirement.

While New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) results have remained largely flat, "I think we’re on the right track. I think we do a good job, and I think we can do better," said Harwood.

The Shaftsbury school ballot includes two school board seats, an article to raise $124,000 for a building repairs reserve fund, and a budget request to appropriate $3,184,225.

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