2016 Starksboro Town Meeting Wrap Up

STARKSBORO — Million-dollar town and school budgets passed relatively easily on the floor of Starksboro’s annual town meeting last Saturday. The day’s greatest controversy and most intense debate centered around the sale of 13 acres of the town’s gravel pit for $15,000.
Starksboro voters approved a municipal spending plan of $1,049,094, which represents roughly 42 percent higher spending than in the current year. Much of that increase is due to the $1.65 million that voters approved this past May to build a new town garage. Fiscal year 2016-2017 payments on the loan to build the garage will total $104,780. Fittingly, Road Foreman Tom Estey reported to the more than 175 townspeople assembled at town meeting that the construction crew expected to pour the foundation for the building on the morning of Town Meeting Day.
Another big-ticket item in Starksboro’s $1.05 million general fund budget (which includes road expenses) is $200,000 to resurface States Prison Hollow Road, $160,000 of which would be paid for by a state grant. The state grant would raise the town’s income by 78 percent for FY ’16-’17. Selectboard Chair Susan Jefferies said that the town still needs to apply for that and that construction would be contingent on actually receiving the money.
Voters approved the Robinson Elementary School budget of $2,921,471, exactly as proposed, after about 20 minutes of discussion.
All articles up for a floor vote passed, including:
•  $43,353 for the Fire Equipment Reserve Fund.
•  $88,188 for the Road Equipment Reserve Fund.
•  $26,525 for the Starksboro Public Library.
•  $41,425 for in-town agencies, including the Starksboro Volunteer Fire Department, the Starksboro Cooperative Preschool and Project Read!
•  $28,168 for out-of-town social service agencies.
•  An authorization of up to $142,000 for the selectboard to purchase a replacement tandem truck.
Townspeople ultimately said yes to selling 13 mined-out acres of the town’s 37-acre gravel pit to Sentinel Farm for $15,000, but only after close to two hours of deliberation that included intense debate from the floor and a vote by paper ballot. Those against the measure questioned the wisdom of selling a town resource that would be hard to replace and raised concerns that the town might at some point want to blast and crush gravel from the bedrock exposed at the mined-out site or might one day want to reclaim the acreage for recreational uses.
Others argued the importance of preserving Starksboro’s few remaining farms, pointed to Sentinel Farms’ recreational offerings for children and youth, and described the landscape in question as a 13-acre “moonscape” of exposed bedrock unsuitable to most uses. The 13 acres are surrounded by Sentinel Farm on three sides and Sentinel owner Kerry Kurt plans to slowly reclaim the land for pasturing her beef cattle. Both Sentinel Farm and the town’s 37 acres are preserved through the Vermont Land Trust, with accompanying restrictions. The vote in favor of the sale was 98 to 64.
After a brief discussion, townspeople also gave a clear show of hands, nonbinding, in support of the selectboard’s proposal to enlarge the board from three to five persons. Jefferies, the selectboard chair, said that the likely timeline for next steps would be to hold a special vote in December. That would give candidates time to declare themselves for the March 2017 ballot but minimize the time the three-person board would be required to vote unanimously to effect any actions. Once residents vote to increase the selectboard from three to five, the official size of the board increases instantaneously and three votes out of five are needed for all decisions.
The biggest laugh of the meeting came when a resident questioned why the town office insisted on delivery rather than postmarking to determine whether taxes were paid on time or were delinquent. Long-time treasurer Celine Coons gave a lively description of the many missed and delayed deliveries she’s received from the U.S. Postal Service and concluded by saying, “It’s a real crap shoot when you use the mail.” At this, the crowd erupted in laughter.
Starksboro had a last-minute contest for a three-year term on the selectboard. Devon Rochon launched a write-in campaign in the days leading up to Town Meeting Day, but the race went to Fire Warden and Assistant Fire Chief Tony Porter, who won his first election to the selectboard.
All other Starksboro elections were uncontested. Caleb Elder, who was appointed last August to replace Dennis Hysko, won a three-year term on the Robinson Elementary School Board. Jodi Bachand won re-election to the Mount Abraham Union High School Board.
On Town Meeting Day, Addison Northeast Supervisory Union voters passed the $13,389,914 Mount Abe budget by a vote of 2,703 to 1,306. 

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