Voters reject emergency disaster fund


WILMINGTON -- Right from the start of Town Meeting, the wording of an article to approve the creation of an emergency/disaster fund raised concerns.

"Recovery should have been printed in there," said Town Moderator Frank Spencer. "And it should read, ‘emergency/disaster recovery fund.' It's simply a correction."

Resident Bill Adams mentioned the word "control" should be included in the name while Selectboard member Susie Haughwout said it should include "efforts" rather than "events."

"This is a very important issue to vote on. Since it's fraught with typos and incorrect, it may be best to withdraw the article and the following article at this time since it appears to have so many flaws," she added. "Or just vote ‘no' and bring it up again unflawed."

The article read: "To see if the town... to create an emergency/disaster capital reserve fund whose purpose is to fund future emergency or disaster events."

It was a close vote but it did not pass. The subsequent article proposing its funding also was not approved.

There was talk of delaying the vote regarding the general fund but it was not postponed.

Although it would raise the tax rate slightly, there were several people in favor of increasing different items presented for funding in the articles. Essentially, the surplus would not have been used to offset the tax rate such as the Selectboard proposed.

The tax rate was reduced by 4 cents mostly due to the surplus. In the line item, it was stated to be $590,000. The additional funds were described as a combination of unexpected funds and tax sale proceeds.

"I'm no accountant but I would have preferred if $370,000 of this was (itemized as) tax sale proceeds," said Selectboard Chairwoman Meg Streeter. "As many of you might have heard, the town acquired about 600 properties in a tax sale held in 2006 that were properties in a mostly undeveloped lot known as the Haystack development or village."

The town has a policy that allows it to acquire lots where property owners did not pay the taxes.

"We feel fortunate to return those to the tax base," continued Streeter. "The town was able to sell two separate bunches, not the technical term of tax sale lots, for $370,000 during the current fiscal year, so it didn't fit into one of the other categories. So we lumped it together with the surplus from last fiscal year, which totaled $320,000. Now, that was due to do not spending on some items that you had given us the authority to."

The budget review group did not see it the same way as the Selectboard.

"In many ways, it's found money. We didn't count on it this budgetary year. It won't be there this year or next year," said Cliff Duncan, a member of the citizen review group that attended budget discussions.

He brought up Tropical Storm Irene and how there was a study currently underway seeking to find a suitable location for the town's police and fire departments. Relocating those departments as well as the Town Offices in the future could be a huge expense.

The Selectboard maintained that without any solid plan or blueprint on hand, its members did not feel comfortable.

"When there is a project studied, constructed theoretically and we have a budget for it, we bring it to voters for a decision," said Streeter. "I don't want to be on a board that sets up a slush fund, using your money for some unspecified future project. I don't think it's in the town's best interest."

Alan Greenspan proposed an amendment to the general fund article. He requested voters approve $6,000 for Memorial Hall funding rather than the $1,500 that appeared in the town report.

"All these expenditures have to be approved by the Town Manager," he said. "Everyone benefits from this. Let's give everyone the pleasure of all the various things we do here."

A standing vote was required and the line item was given Greenspan's requested additional $4,500, which increased the general fund total.

"Anytime we raise the amounts after, we're raising the tax rate," said Streeter.

Voters then approved to raise $1,303,675 for the town road budget. An article for the highway town road equipment capital fund was amended to raise $225,000 rather than the proposed $150,000.

Voters approved funding the fire department equipment reserve fund for $150,000, $25,000 for the Memorial Hall capital reserve fund, $12,000 for the library capital reserve fund and $1,000 for the playground capital reserve fund.

Ultimately, voters approved funding $5,000 for the Town Hall capital reserve fund after budget review group member Cliff Duncan attempted to amend it to $201,000, which would have kept the tax rate level to the previous year. His idea was to use the extra funding for relocation efforts.

Without any projects on the horizon, Haughwout said the money would be going into a fund with no designated use.

The tax stabilization policy was approved by voters. Dependent upon Selectboard approval, it allows new and expanding businesses the opportunity to pay less of the town tax rate. Each year, the rate will rise 20 percent for five years.

It was approved that the town allow optional electronic delivery of the town report.

"We printed over 1,000 books for today. We'd anticipate printing half or less of that for next year," said Town Manager Scott Murphy. "We would have some here for people walking in, some in Town Hall and some mailed to people who wanted them mailed."

He believed that it would save the town approximately $4,000.

For the Wilmington School District, voters approved the budget of $9,863,472 for the support of extraordinary special education costs and operations of the Twin Valley School District. Voters did not approve the hiring of a school resource officer for added security at the Twin Valley Middle and High School at the cost of $41,100 per year.

The Whitingham School District voted the same way for the Twin Valley School District articles.


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