Panton town hall cupola choice in budget

PANTON — Panton residents face a March 5 choice about their town hall, one that is embedded within the proposed town budget.
The budget, which for the first time ever cannot be amended from the floor of Panton Town Meeting, includes a line item for an annual $4,140 payment for an aluminum cupola, not a more expensive wooden cupola that some residents have favored at past town meetings.
The budget also cuts last year’s $38,775 line item for the Town Hall Restoration Fund back to $15,000.
At the past two Panton Town Meetings residents have overruled the selectboard and increased that $15,000 line item by $23,775. That amount is the annual estimated property tax generated by Green Mountain Power’s 5-megawatt solar array.
Proponents of the measure at the past two town meetings, including former Town Hall Committee Chairman David Raphael and former Selectman John Viskup, said that money always was intended to be used for town hall restoration. Current board members said that was not the case, and its use is at their discretion.
As proposed, Panton’s 2019-2020 municipal spending would rise by $11,351 to $624,996, including separately warned reserve funds and nonprofit donations, and trigger a tax rate increase of less than a penny.
The cut in the Town Hall Restoration Fund is offsetting increases in town employee salaries and the cost of winter salt and sand for town roads, among smaller spending hikes.
Panton residents can discuss these and other issues on Monday, March 4, at 6:30 p.m. when the meeting portion of town meeting will be held at Panton Town Hall. But the fate of spending as proposed will be determined when they cast ballots between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. the next day.
Selectboard Chairman Howard Hall said the board wants to hold the line on property taxes, and that the aluminum cupola is about half the cost of a wooden one and will be cheaper to maintain in the long run.
But Hall acknowledged if residents feel strongly about these questions, including putting a wooden cupola back on the building — estimated at around $110,000 installed, minus a $15,000 grant the town has in hand — they should vote no on the budget.
“That would be correct,” Hall said. “But if that happens, and they want a wooden cupola that goes into the $100,000 range or more, their taxes will definitely go up.”
Some residents in the past have argued more grants would be available for a more historically correct wooden cupola. Raphael declined comment, while Viskup said in a phone message he is open to the idea of an aluminum cupola.
Hall said board members prefer an aluminum cupola because it would cost $50,000 or a little more installed, cheaper than the wooden option even without grant support. He stated it would also not require painting, would put less stress on the town hall roof because it is a third the weight, would not trap moisture in the building’s structure, and would look the same as the wooden one that was removed during a 2011 roofing project.
“We’re looking an aluminum cupola that is identical to the one that is sitting behind town hall … It’s lightweight, sits on six legs, sits on top of the building about a half-inch off the top of the roof so if any moisture gets in there it runs off. It’s got a 30-year guarantee. It’s 120 mph wind-resistant,” Hall said.
“They have a couple of these cupolas at the U.S. Naval Academy,” he added. “So I think if it’s good enough for the U.S. Naval Academy it could be OK for Panton.”
If residents back the selectboard’s proposed spending, Hall said the board would proceed with plans for the aluminum cupola.
“We haven’t finalized anything on the cupola until the budget passes,” he said. “If they pass the budget, we’ll go from there.”

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