Khan, Fuentes-George picked for Middlebury selectboard; Eckles wins Ilsley seat by one vote

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury voters at their town meeting Monday night approved all money items on their warning and in Australian balloting the next day decided some hotly contested races for their selectboard and the Ilsley Library Board of Trustees.
Incumbent Farhad Khan and political newcomer Lindsey Fuentes-George prevailed in a three-person race for two spots on the Middlebury selectboard. Khan drew the most votes, with 949. Fuentes-George finished second, with 784 votes. Former Selectman Gary Baker finished out of the running with 399 tallies.
“I want to thank the townspeople for electing me,” a grateful Khan said of his victory on Tuesday evening. “I look forward to working with new member Lindsey Fuentes-George. It’s going to be exciting, and I hope we get some work done.”
Fuentes-George was ecstatic to earn a spot on the board in her first try.
“I have been overwhelmed by the incredible support offered to me by so many people in our community,” she said, through an emailed response. “We have such a special town, filled with people who freely offer their time to make it better. I feel so grateful to everyone who helped me as I navigated this new endeavor, and hope to work very hard for Middlebury. This has been heartening and humbling … I look forward to getting to work.”
Meanwhile, Amy Mincher, John Freidin and Alice Eckles emerged as the winners from among seven candidates seeking election to the Ilsley Library board. Mincher, with 616 votes, and Freidin, with 502 tallies, emerged victorious in a four-person race for two, three-year slots on the library panel. Joseph McVeigh (450) and David Munford (255) finished out of the running.
In a separate bracket in the library race, Eckles edged incumbent Barbara Doyle-Wilch, 403-402, for a one-year term. Patricia Chatary (157 votes) also finished out of the running.
A major, looming renovation project for the Ilsley Library generated particular interest in board vacancies this year.
The 2018 Middlebury ballot featured no other contested elections.
Most of the town’s business was conducted at Middlebury’s annual meeting held at Mary Hogan Elementary School on Monday. The approximately 120 attendees voted overwhelmingly, by voice vote, to authorize:
•  A fiscal year 2019 municipal budget of $10,574,426.
•  A five-year loan of up to $122,400 to replace a police cruiser and related equipment, a street sweeper, a skid steer and an asphalt hot box.
•  The use of up to $57,484 in surplus local option tax money from the Cross Street Bridge fund to offset increased spending for capital improvements next year.
The FY’19 municipal budget of $10,574,426 will require raising $7,331,905 in local property taxes; the balance of the municipal spending plan will be paid through various fees, state and federal revenues and an annual financial contribution from Middlebury College. This year’s proposal continued a pattern of what have essentially been level-funded municipal budget requests during the past four consecutive fiscal years, according to town officials.
“The board worked hard to develop a budget for your consideration this evening that preserves existing municipal services and boosts funding for infrastructure improvements while minimizing the tax impact,” selectboard Chairman Brian Carpenter told the assembled voters.
Middlebury Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay said the budget — coupled with a 1.4-percent growth in the grand list during the past year — is expected to result in an increase of about 0.37 of one penny in the community’s current municipal rate of 98.2 cents per $100 in property value. It should be noted the board agreed to apply $150,000 in fund balance to offset some of the property tax impact of the budget.
Major budget drivers, according to Ramsay, include a combined $184,790 increase in contracted salaries and benefits for municipal employees, a $36,230 decrease in anticipated property & casualty insurance premiums, a $17,016 decrease in debt service, and a $20,102 decrease in equipment fund expenses. She also noted a $24,560 decrease in costs of the police K-9 program.
Officials warned voters they’ll be asked to support two bond referenda this November that will eventually add to the local property tax levy. There will be a “flood resiliency project,” now heading to final design, aimed at preventing the Middlebury River from flooding East Middlebury village during major storms. The second bond will involve upgrades to some of the town’s deteriorating water mains, particularly in the Exchange Street area. Officials have yet to assign final costs to those two projects.
Residents gave a resounding OK to the municipal budget, but asked questions about other aspects of town financing — namely, future disposition of a growing surplus in Middlebury’s local option tax fund. It was in 2008 that Middlebury residents supported a local option tax of 1 percent on sales, rooms, meals and alcohol to cover debt service and maintenance on the Cross Street Bridge. That fund is currently growing at a pace that exceeds annual payback and upkeep for the $16 million span, $9 million of which is being defrayed by Middlebury College.
The local option tax surplus currently stands at around $1.3 million. Resident Victoria DeWind asked selectboard members about using the excess funds to reduce debt service and pay outright for (instead of borrowing) the $122,400 costs of the replacement police cruiser, a street sweeper, a skid steer and an asphalt hot box.
“We are currently carrying $3 million in debt on borrowed money, and $800,000 of that is interest,” DeWind said. “I encourage the selectboard to please come back to the voters and ask for the approval to use that money for other things, rather than increasing our taxes. It’s $1.3 million that we could very well use for important investments.”
Selectboard members promised to engage the public in a broader dialogue about the local option tax surplus, but for now wanted to limit the request to the $57,484 for added investments in local infrastructure.
“We talked about if we pulled (the entire $1.3 million) out, it could disappear pretty quickly on any one particular project,” Carpenter said. “Given the funds were established for an infrastructure use for the town — the Cross Street Bridge — we felt those funds that continue to accrue could be used for other infrastructure throughout the town.”
The surplus local option tax money can’t be used for school purposes.
After much discussion and a failed amendment, residents voted overwhelmingly in favor of both using the $57,484 in local option tax surplus for infrastructure work and borrowing the $122,400 for the replacement equipment. Ramsay said the board could elect to ask voters at a future date to pay the $122,400 by some other means.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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