Middlebury residents back $3M road bond

MIDDLEBURY — In Town Meeting Day voting, Middlebury residents re-elected Craig Bingham and Dean George to three-year terms on the selectboard, and overwhelmingly approved a $3 million bond to repair Middlebury’s many battered roads that have been backlogged because of tight budgets, 467-158.
In a three-way race for two seats on the Mary Hogan Elementary School board, Karen Lefkoe edged out Lorraine Gonzalez Morse, 513-509, while Serena Eddy-Moulton was elected with 556 votes.
The UD-3 school budget of $15,643,007, which is down more than 2 percent from last year, easily passed (see story on Page 1A), and Devin McLaughlin and Quinn Mecham were elected to three-year terms on the UD-3 school board representing Middlebury.
At town meeting Monday night, a 2011-2012 fiscal year general fund budget (which includes all spending) of $8,265,365 was passed by voice vote among the approximate 150 people attending with only one or two opposed. That amount of spending is up $132,155 (less than 2 percent) from last year’s $8,133,210. The town budget has been level-funded for the past couple of years.
The bulk of this year’s budget increase stems from soaring town employee health insurance premiums, the addition of a new marketing coordinator position with the Better Middlebury Partnership at $25,000 of town funding, and a $71,720 increase in capital improvements.
The largest increase came within the $659,000 to be allocated to town employee health insurance premiums, which marks an increase of over 17 percent from the prior year. Assistant Town Manager Joe Colangelo said such increases in this one item are “obviously just not sustainable for the town.” As a result, the town has already formed a committee of eight town employees to look at “all possible types of plans” to reduce costs. Town officials are seeking to find a new plan by next year, which they hope will reduce premiums by $40,000 or more.
There was little debate over allocating funds for the marketing coordinator position within the Better Middlebury Partnership. It is a position that many Vermont towns of Middlebury’s size currently employ, as do smaller towns like Brandon and Woodstock. The primary responsibilities of this position include, but are not limited to: coordinating and communicating town events, helping businesses maximize revenues, promoting activities that support Middlebury’s economic development, and implementing marketing plans for new and existing projects. While the town is contributing the bulk of the resources, the Downtown Improvement District is contributing $10,000 to the position, while the Better Middlebury Partnership is adding $5,000 annually.
Donna Donahue, president of the Better Middlebury Partnership, made a five-minute presentation explaining the position, demonstrating the increase in downtown business that the BMP has already done through extensive volunteer work over the past year, and suggesting that even greater revenues will benefit the town’s overall economy with a paid staff position that cannot be continued successfully by relying solely on volunteers.
“Middlebury needs somebody working on this all the time,” said Donahue, noting that the 17-member board had put in tens of thousands of volunteer hours in the past year alone, an effort that will be on-going but that can’t be sustained over the long-term.
Town residents also approved funds for other capital improvements, including:
•The “Downtown Program,” which will allocate $30,000 to sidewalks, $50,000 to roadwork, $15,000 to parks and $5,000 toward implementing a two-year plan to make downtown Middlebury wireless. Resident Greg Dennis spoke up about this last item, suggesting it was a worthy effort and encouraged the town to implement it in a single year, if possible.
•$10,000 for repairs and energy efficiency improvements to the municipal gymnasium.
•$10,000 for repairs of the town swimming pool, which town officials warned may need a major overhaul in the not-so-distant future.
The most hotly debated topics of the evening were the cessation of the Middlebury Global Warming Action Coalition (MAGWAC) and a petitioned request for $5,000 of funding for the Addison County Humane Society.
Town officials noted that MAGWAC had ceased to exist with its responsibilities being taken over by a town energy committee, which was still actively pushing the town toward improving its energy efficiency. Although energy efficiency is a top priority, officials did acknowledge that slightly less attention is now given to global warming issues.
Resident Laura Asermily, who received a round of applause for her work on energy efficiency through ACORN, complemented the town on its past efforts, and noted that the energy committee was still fully involved in the issue. She added that Middlebury was “a recognized leader” throughout the state for its energy efficiency policies and practices.
There was much debate over a petitioned request for $5,000 in Humane Society funding. Jackie Rose, executive director of the Addison County Humane Society, reported that in “this past year … we took in 604 animals, and of those 604 … 123 came directly from the town of Middlebury. That’s 20 percent of the total animals … The actual cost for us to serve those 123 animals was $49,200.”
While debate revolved around whether similar funds might instead be allocated to serve the homeless, the prevailing sentiment was that the Humane Society does Middlebury a great service. The funding was passed and will continue to be part of the future budget, unless amended.
A group of Middlebury College students participating in the 2011 U.S. Department of Energy Solar Decathlon were permitted by community members to present their project to the town. This team of students seeks to construct a living space designed for the Vermont environment that nets zero carbon emissions. They informed the community of their upcoming plans and announced a community construction day, which will allow town members to join in the project’s efforts.
Selectman Craig Bingham presented the dedication of the Town Report to Dick Thodal, executive director of Middlebury Community Television. Suzanne Snyder was bestowed the Robert E. Collins award for outstanding service to recreation programs through her 20-odd years of work with the town’s swimming team. Town officials also noted that this year was the town’s 250th birthday, along with almost a dozen others throughout the county.
Reporter Andrew Stein is at [email protected]

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