Select Board race, mayor question on ballot

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BENNINGTON —
Voters on Tuesday will decide on a Select Board race, a $12.9 million municipal budget, and whether to adopt a mayoral form of government when they head to the polls.

The annual floor meetings will be held Monday at the fire facility on River Street. The school meeting begins at 6:15 p.m. The town meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Voting will take place on Tuesday. Polls are open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Bennington voters can cast ballots at the River Street fire facility. North Bennington residents will vote at village trustees office/train station on Depot Street.

The town clerk's office will close at noon Monday to prepare for the town and school meetings.

Select Board race

It's a three-way race for two three-year seats on the Select Board. Incumbents Donald Campbell and Jim Carroll are seeking re-election. Campbell, acting vice-chairman, seeks a second term and Carroll, a third term. They're being challenged by newcomer William H. Stewart.

Mayoral question

Question two, appearing by citizen petition, would initiate a binding charter change calling for a "strong mayor" with "the power to veto any action of the Select Board." Proponents say a mayor would be more accountable to voters and better able to bring about positive change. Opponents have argued that an elected mayor could open the town to increased partisanship and to a person who isn't qualified to manage a town government.

Budget

Town and school officials reviewed a combined budget at Monday night's Select Board meeting.

A $12.893 million municipal budget for the 2019 fiscal year that begins July 1 is a 3.5 percent increase over the current year, according to Town Manager Stuart Hurd. It includes $8.9 million for the general and fire funds.

The $4.1 million highway fund is up $90,130, or 2.25 percent. It includes $383,330 for street paving. That line item is down some $322,00, or 46 percent.

Hurd said the reduction is due to the first year of the bond and principal interest payments for the new Department of Public Works facility. That amount is $252,770.

Hurd said paving is included in the ongoing work to connect parts of town to municipal water, an effort to address PFOA contaminated drinking water.

"We'll see paving to bring the streets back to good condition," Hurd said. "We're counting on and looking forward to that."

Also included is $91,140 for sidewalk construction and maintenance, $50,000 for the Kocher Drive multi-use path, and $55,000 as a local match to the Pleasant and School Street sidewalk project.

Tax rates

The municipal tax rate, before including agency funding requests, is anticipated at $1.1528 per $100 of assessed value, an increase of about a penny. Hurd said the rate would increase another 1.4 cents if voters approve agency requests.

In past years, voters have unanimously approved all appropriation requests.

The fiscal 2019 adjusted homestead education tax rate is $1.5161, up $0.0234.

The estimated combined tax rate, which includes the town's municipal tax rate and education tax rate, is $2.6689.

Agency funding

Thirteen agencies appearing on the ballot are seeking a total of $130,100. They include the Bennington County Coalition for the Homeless ($25,000), the Bennington Area Visiting Nurse Association ($21,600), Sunrise Family Resource Center ($15,000), Bennington Project Independence ($11,000), and the Tutorial Center ($10,000). Eight other agencies seek $7,500 or less. The requests are level with what voters approved last year.

More details about agency funding requests are on the town's website: http://benningtonvt.org/agency-funding-requests-fy19.

Six agencies already built into the municipal budget would receive a total of $666,210. Those include: Bennington County Regional Commission ($15,510, up $300), the Bennington Free Library ($470,000, up $12,250), North Bennington Recreation ($6,000) and Paran Recreation ($2,700).

The John McCullough Library was funded at $22,000, up $4,000, or 22 percent from the current fiscal year. The North Bennington library's administration had requested $45,000 for the town's share, which they said was necessary to avoid dipping into its endowment. Select Board members during budget talks in January appropriated the smaller amount.

Members also appropriated $150,000 to the Bennington Rescue Squad. It's the first time the nonprofit ambulance service will be included in the municipal budget. The squad appeared on the ballot last year by petition. Voters approved $207,460.

Ed Damon can be reached at edamon@benningtonbanner.com, at @edamon_banner on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 111.


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