Bristol decides contested races

BRISTOL — Bristol residents at their annual meeting on Monday approved all of the money items on their warning then went to the polls on Tuesday to OK their elementary school budget by a 479 to 256 tally and decide a handful of contested elections.
Tuesday’s elections saw incumbent Selectman John “Peeker” Heffernan top challenger John Moyers, 467 to 279, for a two-year seat on the board.
Challenger Kris Perlee was the top vote-getter in a four-way race for two one-year terms on the Bristol Elementary School board. Perlee received 355 votes, followed by incumbent board member Karl Ginalski (328). Incumbent Elin Melchior finished just out of the running with 322 tallies, followed by R.E. “Dick” Merrill, with 230.
In the only other contested race, incumbent Mount Abraham Union High School director Gary Farnsworth successfully staved off a challenge for his three-year seat. Farnsworth won the three-way race with 319 tallies, followed by Abby Degraw with 177 votes and 159 for Justin Bouvier, who ran a spirited write-in campaign.
A crowd of more than 130 people on Monday passed, by voice vote, a local highway budget of $728,505 (up from $715,447) and a general fund spending plan of $680,452 (up from $605,280).
Selectman Alan Huizenga explained the proposed highway budget represented a 2-percent increase from this year.
“It has been steady for years,” he said of the highway budget.
Local residents apparently agreed, as the spending plan drew few comments from town meeting attendees.
“I think they do an amazing job,” resident Willow Wheelock said of the road crew. The highway budget passed unanimously.
Residents were not as quick to pass the general fund budget, however — largely over concerns about surging health care costs, which officials said are estimated to go up 17 percent next year.
The town of Bristol currently spends around $130,000 annually for health insurance coverage for municipal employees through the Vermont League of Cities and Towns Health Trust program, town Administrator Bill Bryant told local voters. The town covers the employees’ health insurance premiums, but the program features an annual, maximum deductible exposure of $4,500 for a family plan, Bryant explained.
Bristol has been able to avoid even bigger sticker-shock on the health insurance front because five of the 13 town employees eligible for the municipal plan have elected to obtain coverage through a spouse, according to Bryant.
Resident Dave Rosen suggested the town encourage the Vermont Legislature to enact major health care reforms as a way of providing potential financial relief on the insurance front. Lawmakers are currently considering a proposal for a single-payer system which some believe will cut administrative costs and lead to greater efficiencies.
Resident Craig Scribner argued the town should not get involved in the health care debate and said he believed town employees should pay a portion of their premiums.
“I think it would be unethical and illegal for the town of Bristol to take a stance on a political issue,” Scribner said.
“I think it’s high time (town employees) took some ownership in their own health insurance plans,” he added.
In spite of rising health care costs, town officials said they were able to avert sharp increases in the budgets.
Bristol Selectwoman Carol Wells noted the 2011-2012 general fund budget represents around a $55,000 increase in taxes compared to this year. She stressed that the biggest general fund budget-driver is the first year’s, $60,000 payment on the Holley Hall renovation bond. Absent that payment — which will decrease gradually during the next 19 years of the bond issue — the tax-affecting portion of the budget would have gone down this year, officials said.
“We do have to pay for all this beautiful renovation and the wonderful things we did to this building to keep it standing and useful and a source of pride to this community for the next 50, 60 or 100 years,” Wells said, glancing at the new improvements in the meeting hall.
Bristol ended the 2009-2010 fiscal year with a $136,501 surplus. The board proposed to use $10,000 of that surplus to stabilize the municipal tax rate, and recommended using additional portions of it for various reserve funds to lessen the financial impact of future capital projects.
Other items passed by Bristol voters on Monday and Tuesday included:
• A 2011-2012 Bristol Elementary School budget of $4,369,147 by a 479 to 256 tally.
• A Bristol Arts, Parks and Recreation Department budget of $200,160.
• A request to place a combined total of $152,500 in various reappraisal and capital reserve funds
• A proposal to place $10,000 into an ongoing Conservation Reserve Fund.
• An appropriation of $113,932 for the Lawrence Memorial Library budget.
• Creation of a reserve fund of up to $100,000 to use for future unforeseen school expenses or deficits that would otherwise have to be covered by property tax increases.
• An appropriation of $23,000 for the Bristol Recreation Club, Inc.
• A combined total of $70,400 in various human services agency requests.
Elected without opposition were Alan Huizenga, selectboard, three years; Therese Kirby, town clerk, town treasurer and delinquent tax collector, all for one year; Garland “Chico” Martin, local school director, three years; and Fred Baser, town moderator and school moderator, both for one year.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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