Ferrisburgh faceoff is top item on ANWSD-area ballots

FERRISBURGH — Ferrisburgh offers the only major contested race for office among the communities that make up the Addison Northwest School District. But in addition to weighing in on the usual selectboard budget proposals and a $21.1 million school-spending plan, on Town Meeting Day residents of Vergennes and the four towns will be facing questions about fire and highway trucks and town hall repairs.
The Ferrisburgh selectboard race was created because Chairwoman Loretta Lawrence chose to step down after 17 years on that board, a tenure that followed seven years on the Ferrisburgh zoning board.
“It just felt like a good time to step down,” Lawrence said. “I feel the town is in a good place right now.”
Lawrence, 67, said the decision was not easy.
“I could talk myself out of it in a minute, but I’m not going to,” she said. “I feel it’s the right decision for me. I’ve got a lot of other things to do.”
Those other things include retaining her full-time job as the Ferrisburgh Central School secretary and remaining active in her church. But Lawrence said she will miss public service, in part because of the “tremendous people” she has worked with. 
“I’ve worked with previous boards that have been great, and I work with a great board now,” she said. “We always get a variety of people with different backgrounds and perspectives, but we always blend together for the good of the town.”
Despite mixed feelings, Lawrence said she is not going to change her mind, and she is confident others can fill her shoes.
“It’s been a wonderful job. It’s been very rewarding. It’s had its sweet moments and not-so-sweet moments,” Lawrence said. “It’s going to be hard to walk away. I’ve already felt that, but I think it’s the right thing to do. I’m sure there are plenty of people who want to step up and serve their community.”
And two have stepped up and filed petitions for her seat: Dennis Armell, who has twice run for the selectboard, and first-time candidate Jessica James.
Armell, 63, most recently ran in 2015, when he lost to Michael “Red” Muir, who is running unopposed for another three-year term this March.
Armell retired from the Vermont Army National Guard’s U.S. Property and Fiscal Office in 2015, and has also worked as an auto dealership department manager and as a dairy farmer. A member and former officer of Vergennes American Legion Post 14, he served on the Ferrisburgh Conservation Commission for 10-plus years and has worked with the county’s Riverwatch program and the Lewis Creek Association.
Armell is also an instructor for the Vermont Fish & Game Hunter Education program and has coached extensively for elementary school and area youth sports programs.
James, 36, is a fourth-generation Ferrisburgh resident who grew up on a dairy farm, earned a University of Vermont degree, and has worked for the past six years as a legal secretary and administrative assistant for Ouimette and Runcie in Vergennes. She said Lawrence encouraged her to run while James was visiting her two children at FCS, where James also volunteers.
“We discussed how she would like to see another young person and another female get on the board,” said James, who also volunteers with the Girls Scouts and the Vergennes Champs swim team.
James said she wants to serve her hometown.
“I just want to help guide the town in a direction that can give it good growth and give it good education for our children,” she said. “I just want to be more involved in the community, have more of a voice.”
Also on the ballot in Ferrisburgh will be a selectboard proposal for the $115,000 purchase of a loader for the town’s highway department. Town officials expect payments on the loader to be about $23,000 a year over a five-year term.
Three Vergennes City Council incumbents filed to run in March without opposition: Renny Perry, Lynn Donnelly, and  Matt Chabot.
The terms of one of the city’s representatives on the ANWSD board, Mark Koenig, also expires. Koenig, also an alderman, filed to seek re-election without opposition.
There is big-ticket item on the city’s ballot: the council is asking voters to back a $500,000 bond to fund a new fire truck to replace the Vergennes Fire Department’s Engine 1, a 24-year-old pumper.  
City officials plan to seek a 20-year bond that should cost about $45,000 a year in the first year of a note, assuming interest would be about 4 percent a year from now, when a truck would be built from scratch and then delivered if Vergennes voters back the proposal.
The cost would be shared among taxpayers in Vergennes and the three other towns the city department serves as first responder: Panton, Waltham and about 40 percent of Ferrisburgh.
City Manager Mel Hawley said estimates are tricky, but he guessed the truck could add a penny to the city’s municipal tax rate, and possibly the same amount in Panton and Waltham. The impact on Ferrisburgh would be less, he said. 
In Addison incumbent selectboard members Jeff Kauffman and Roger Waterman both filed petitions for re-election without opposition.
The term of one of Addison’s representatives on the ANWSD board expires in March, that of Laurie Childers. Childers did not file for another term. As of Monday’s deadline for filing petitions, officials were researching how her seat would be filled if a successful write-in candidate does not emerge — that is, whether the ANWSD board or the selectboard would be responsible to make an appointment.
There are no major financial articles on the Town Meeting Day ballot, but residents will be asked one question: Do they support trading one town-owned 0.33-acre parcel near Addison Central School with another 0.33-acre parcel near Addison’s former town hall that is owned by ANWSD.
Both the town selectboard and ANWSD board have signed off on the deal, which would increase the size of the school parcel and also make the town hall parcel a legal lot and allow it to be subdivided in the future if Addison decides to renovate it and use it again as its town office building and a community center.
One term expires in Panton, that of Selectwoman Teresa Smith. According to Town Clerk Pam Correia, Smith would be willing to be nominated from the floor of town meeting.
Panton voters also will face other decisions. The simplest could be to spend $65,000 on a truck for the highway department. To fund the truck, the selectboard has proposed to use $40,000 of a surplus from the previous fiscal year and to borrow the remaining $25,000.
Three separate articles will remain to be decided on work to be done to Panton Town Hall: one on a handicap ramp that could cost $100,000; the replacement of its cupola, a project now estimated at $100,000 but could also have some grant support; and the $55,000 installation of a kitchen. Correia said earlier this week details were being ironed out on the kitchen proposal. The Independent will follow up on these articles and potential funding next week.
Waltham will also see decisions on its selectboard and town hall.
Selectman Andrew Martin’s term will expire in March, and Town Clerk Mary Ann Castimore said she believes he will be open to nomination at town meeting.
Waltham residents will also be asked to authorize $25,000 of spending “for needed repairs” to Waltham Town Hall, with the exact nature of the work to be determined by a grant-funded study conducted by the Preservation Trust of Vermont.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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