Town Meeting Preview 2015: Vergennes

VERGENNES — The Vergennes Town Meeting Day ballot will offer two contested races, including a rematch of a 2012 contest decided by one vote, and a petitioned article.
The annual city meeting, at which issues will be discussed, but not decided, will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, March 2, in the Vergennes Opera House. The city’s annual dessert social will begin in the theater an hour earlier.
Voting will be held from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, March 3, at the city fire station.
Four candidates are vying for three two-year terms on the Vergennes City Council. Two are incumbents who have served multiple terms, large animal veterinarian Joe Klopfenstein and longtime United Technologies Corp. employee Lowell Bertrand, who was re-elected to the council in 2012 after losing in 2011.
Two newcomers, William Northrop and Jeffrey Fritz, joined the race.
Northrop is a 2008 VUHS graduate and community organizer who is the president of Young Democrats of Vermont and who serves on the city’s Basin Task Force.
Fritz, a former small business owner and banking administrator, is president of the board of the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Vergennes, chairman of the Northlands Job Corps Community Relations Council, a member of the Bixby Library fundraising committee, and a Vergennes-Panton Water District commissioner.
Mayor Bill Benton is running unopposed for a second term. 
The other contested race is the second go-around between Susan Ferland and Cheryl Brinkman for the seat on the Vergennes Union Elementary School board now held by Ferland. Both are seeking a three-year term.
In 2012, Ferland, an insurance agent and former Addison Northeast Supervisory Union teacher, edged Brinkman, a public health chemist who was then an incumbent VUES and Addison Northwest Supervisory Board member, 329-328. Both have extensive public service résumés.
Ferland also handed in the petition on the ballot asking for a citywide vote on a $42,000 playground that has since received Vergennes Development Review Board approval. It reads: “Should the City of Vergennes build a Toddler/Preschool park adjacent to the Sam Fishman Pool at Vergennes Memorial Park at a cost of $42,000, half of which would come from the city Water Tower Fund?”
Officials said that vote would be non-binding. City officials in December criticized the petition for not mentioning that the other half of the funding would come from a $21,000 state grant.
A two-year term on the VUES board is also coming open; Sue Rakowski is running unopposed for that seat. 
Residents at the city meeting will also be asked to fill out a 10-question survey on city recreation issues. The survey will also be available at the polling station, and aldermen plan to use the results to help make policy and funding decisions.
Survey questions ask how residents use existing city parks and recreation programs, how they rate their condition and importance, how funds should be spent on them and how those funds should be raised, what kind of programs should be offered and how they should be scheduled, and whether residents would support the position of a part-time recreation coordinator.
School funding questions round out March decision-making.
The Vergennes Union High School board adopted a roughly $10.47 million budget that administrators said will 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. The board is also seeking $100,000 to put in the VUHS capital improvement fund.
To reach the administrators’ long-term goals, the budget would increase spending by 11 percent, or about $1 million, over the current VUHS budget, despite cuts equal to about four teaching jobs.
Vergennes, Panton and Waltham voters will also be asked to approve a $4.7 million Vergennes Union Elementary School budget that would 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 Addison Northwest Supervisory Union officials.
According to ANwSU estimates, if both budgets and related capital fund requests are approved, Vergennes residential property taxes could rise by about 9.8 cents, or 6.9 percent, to $1.5136.
The estimated increase of about 9.8 cents would translate to roughly $98 per $100,000 of assessed value.
Most homeowners will receive prebates following their tax payments to soften the initial increase.
About two-thirds of Addison County households are eligible for property tax relief under the state’s education financing laws. Prebates typically average around $1,300 in Addison County, according to 2014 state data. 

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