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2016 Starksboro Town Meeting Preview

STARKSBORO — Starksboro’s annual town meeting will be held on Saturday, Feb. 27, at Robinson Elementary School, starting at 9 a.m. Voting by Australian ballot will take place Tuesday, March 1, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., also at Robinson Elementary.
The Starksboro selectboard expects a robust discussion on a number of items on this year’s town meeting agenda. Among the most noteworthy, said Selectboard Chair Susan Jeffries, is the proposed sale of 13 acres at the north end of the town’s gravel pit on Route 116 to the owners of the adjacent Sentinel Farm for $15,000. The proposed purchase and sale agreement is available for review at the town office.
Jeffries explained that, in accord with Vermont law, the selectboard entered into a sale agreement, which it then posted, and that a citizen’s petition then moved that item to a direct vote on the floor of town meeting. Jeffries noted that the gravel pit itself is about 37 acres in total, and that the town has mined the gravel out of the 13 acres in question. Both the Starksboro gravel pit and Sentinel Farm lands are preserved through the Vermont Land Trust, so any sale agreement would have to go before the Land Trust, as well.
Another article likely to set off intense debate asks whether the selectboard should expand from three to five members. Jeffries said that if residents declare themselves in favor of the expansion, the selectboard would then hold a special meeting in December to officially vote on the change in time for new candidates to run for office a year from now. Jeffries explained that Vermont law stipulates that once residents vote to increase the selectboard from three to five, the official size of the board increases instantaneously, meaning that the “interim” three-person board would have to vote in unison to effect any decision.
The proposed $1,049,094 general fund budget for 2016-2017 is up by $308,884 from the current year’s, roughly 42 percent. Jeffries noted that the increase is largely due to construction costs on the new town garage, which voters approved last May. This year’s payment on the loan to build the garage will be $104,780, of the $1.65 million in total costs. The other big-ticket item in the spending plan is resurfacing of States Prison Hollow Road; it is budgeted at $200,000, of which $160,000 would be paid for by a state grant.
Although challenged in a town vote last August, Starksboro will continue to vote its school budget from the floor. Increases to the Robinson Elementary School budget voted from the floor last year set off passionate debate on both sides and led to a petitioned revote on the elementary school budget at a special meeting last May.
This year residents are being asked to approve a Robinson Elementary School budget of $2,921,471. The Robinson budget represents the greatest percentage reduction in spending per equalized pupil across all Addison Northeast Supervisory Union towns. The Agency of Education had originally set Robinson an Act 46 allowable growth rate of 1.56 percent, and the board lowered spending per equalized pupil by 7.6 percent, putting per-pupil spending at $15,717.77 for 2016-2017.
At press time, homestead tax rates were still up in the air statewide, as the Agency of Education continues to await clarification from legislators on how Act 46 affects the “property dollar equivalent yield” used to calculate the homestead rate.
Starksboro will have no contested races on its Town Meeting Day ballot.
Tony Porter is seeking a three-year term on the selectboard. Caleb Elder is seeking a three-year term on the Robinson Elementary School Board. Jodi Bachand is running for re-election to the Mount Abraham Union High School Board.
Townspeople will also vote by Australian ballot to accept or reject the proposed $13,389,914 budget for Mount Abe and the $3,521,263 proposed spending plan for the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center.

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