Town Meeting Recap 2015: Panton

PANTON — Panton residents on Tuesday decided a number of financial questions, chose several new officers, and weighed in on Vergennes Union High School and Vergennes Union Elementary School spending.

Those nominated from the floor of town meeting on Tuesday morning and returned to office by voice vote included selectboard members Beth Tarallo and Howard Hall, VUHS board member Richard Rathbun, and Vergennes-Panton Water District Commissioner David Philbrook.

Residents also backed unanimously several articles proposed by the selectboard the board said were intended to protect to the town’s future financial health.

One asked voters to create a reserve fund “not to exceed 7 percent of the general budget,” with that fund intended to “cover unanticipated revenue shortfalls” and handle other unanticipated town expenses.

A related article voters approved took $47,216 from an “undesignated fund balance,” essentially a surplus, to start that reserve fund. That amount equals 7 percent of current town spending, selectboard members said.

Tarallo and Hall told voters the fund balance has accrued to a little over $100,000 after several years of careful spending and fiscal management, and that outside auditors and the Vermont League of Cities and Towns had both recommended such a fund.

Current and future selectboards will use the reserve fund in case of emergencies that could include an economic downturn that affected tax collection or a natural disaster that stretched town resources thin. Board members will keep it at the 7 percent level in the future, they said, through budget contributions that should amount to only a few thousand dollars a year at most.

In another article residents backed, the selectboard asked voters to put another $50,000 from the undesignated fund balance into the Highway Capital Equipment Fund, which is used for major equipment purchases. Currently, the selectboard said, the town owns about $1 million of equipment that must be replaced on a regular basis.

Voters also backed another article requesting regular contributions totaling $59,000 to five reserve funds, most notably $20,000 apiece to the Highway Capital Equipment Fund and the Highway Capital Project Fund, and $15,000 to the Town Hall Restoration Fund.

Selectboard members told residents they were happy with the town’s highway department and its financial position.

“I think the town is pretty well on track,” Hall said.

Some debate broke out about an advisory measure that asked lawmakers to “cap Education Property Tax rates at FY2015 levels for the next two years.” School directors said the issue was complicated, but Selectman John Viskup and others urged residents to at least send a message to lawmakers. The Ayes had it by a substantial margin in a voice vote.

Australian balloting throughout Tuesday was devoted to the union school budgets.

Panton voters joined most Addison Northwest Supervisory Union towns in voting against a VUHS budget of roughly $10.47 million budget that had called for a $1 million increase. Administrators had said the plan would begin to dig VUHS out of its deep financial hole and would better reflect the cost of operating the school after years of underfunded spending, but Panton said no, 56-40. The overall vote was 831-718 against the spending plan.

Panton did join other ANwSU towns in supporting putting $100,000 in the VUHS capital improvement fund; the overall margin was 802-730.  

Vergennes, Panton and Waltham voters in commingled balloting backed, 398-316, a $4.7 million VUES budget that will increase spending by about 7.7 percent over the current level of about $4.36 million.

Deficit spending and accounting for poor past accounting practices are also driving the VUES budget higher, according to ANwSU officials.

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