Expanded Starksboro selectboard tackles to-do list

STARKSBORO — At its April retreat, the newly expanded five-person Starksboro selectboard set itself a number of priorities for the work ahead. These include:
•  Evaluating the town’s financial reporting software.
•  Improving methods of communication with community members, including the town website.
•  Continuing maintenance on town buildings and properties.
•  Requiring liability insurance for all town contractors.
•  Reclassification of certain Class Four roads.
Since Town Meeting Day, the selectboard has begun to tackle these and other issues important to the town.
Town auditors Telling and Associates recommended that the town consider upgrading its accounting system to something “more robust.” The town currently uses QuickBooks. Possibilities include something like the New England Municipal Resource Center’s accounting software, widely used by school districts, nonprofits and other municipalities. The board discussed that changing systems would require a serious review of options and cost analysis.
Starksboro Treasurer Celine Coon attended the selectboard’s May 2 meeting to discuss what was best for the town. Coon said the cost of the NERMC system would likely be prohibitive for the town: $10,000 plus $300 a year for each module. Additionally, Coon said that historic data would not migrate from QuickBooks to NERMC, which could make it difficult to retrieve that data. Coon said she feels comfortable using QuickBooks and she’s made a comparison with other towns.
New selectboard member Koran Cousino has taken the lead on improving the town website, starksborovt.org. Cousino enlisted Starksboro residents Erin Buckwalter (marketing development director for the Northeast Organic Farming Association of Vermont) and marketing and communications consultant Rebecca Elder to start working on a redesign. Other townspersons interested in volunteering on the town website should contact Cousino.
Mowing has been a big priority as the weather heats up and Vermont lurches toward summer. After soliciting bids, the selectboard picked Scenic Valley Landscaping to mow around the town buildings, including the new town garage and the Jerusalem Schoolhouse and awarded Dan Gebo a three-year contract to mow Cota Field.
All contractors who work on town property must now provide proof of liability insurance.
Several landowners have approached the town about having Class Four roads on their property declassified. Roads in this category thus far include Mason Hill North and Mason Hill South. The selectboard plans to allot part of an upcoming June meeting to meet with landowners on this issue. The selectboard has also been at work clarifying its criteria for defining and maintaining Class Four roads and has drafted a Class Four road and trail policy.
Along with approving a maintenance schedule for various parts of various town properties, the selectboard has been part of an ongoing discussion about the Jerusalem Schoolhouse. A joint committee has been formed with the goal of moving ahead with the long-planned schoolhouse renovations. The joint committee will include representatives from the Starksboro selectboard, the Starksboro Fire Department, Friends of the Jerusalem Schoolhouse and, hopefully, representatives from the Ladies Home Circle.
Also up before the selectboard is a proposal from Waterbury’s Green Lantern Group to develop one to three small commercial solar arrays in Starksboro. The 150-kilowatt arrays would be sited on one-acre parcels. The proposed sites are the conserved land at the town gravel pit, the old Starksboro landfill, and land next to Robinson Elementary School.
Green Lantern’s Sam Carlson attended the April 18 selectboard meeting to discuss the proposed array(s). He told the selectboard that Green Lantern is proposing a minimum 20-year lease, with possible three- to five-year extensions. Green Lantern will also present their proposal to the Starksboro Planning Commission.
In a conversation with the Independent, Jefferies explained that the solar discussion with Green Lantern is very much in the initial stages and that any negotiations would involve a full process, including public hearings. She also explained that the  gravel pit acreage under consideration is land for which the town already has a purchase and sale agreement with a neighboring landowner. That agreement had been extended through June and the selectboard is waiting to hear from the potentials purchaser.
In terms of the land next to Robinson Elementary, Jefferies said she has contacted both the Robinson School Board and Addison Northeast Superintendent Patrick Reen to set up a conversation about how that land might be returned to the town, under the Act 46 articles of agreement voters approved last November.
Among the most important developments for Starksboro since elections on Town Meeting Day is the five-person board itself. The town voted last December to expand from a three-person to a five-person board. On March 7, newcomers Koran Cousino and Keegan Tierney won the two new seats and incumbent Peter Marsh defeated challenger Dan Baker. Cousino and Tierney then joined veterans Marsh, Jefferies and Tony Porter on the town board.
“I just love this new selectboard,” said Jefferies. “I just love it. We have five people who are active and engaged and interested. And our new members bring a great perspective on things and are asking great questions and taking on a lot of work. It’s been everything I hoped it would be.”
The selectboard was set to meet May 16; and next scheduled to meet June 6 at the town offices.
Reporter Gaen Murphree is reached at [email protected].

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