Vergennes-area towns float budgets

VERGENNES AREA — Selectboards in the towns surrounding Vergennes have generally held the purse strings tight in making Town Meeting Day budget proposals, while March 2 warnings are also dotted with articles seeking support for trucks, reserve funds, and in one case new highway sheds.
Other articles in Addison, Ferrisburgh, Panton and Waltham include a zoning law update, a switch from elected to appointed town officials, and three contested selectboard races.
Waltham and Ferrisburgh, towns that decide spending issues and town elections from the floor of their town meetings, have in the COVID-19 pandemic opted to have residents vote on town issues by Australian ballot.
Addison and Panton already rely on Australian balloting, while in Vergennes the city council will set city spending for the 2021-2022 fiscal year in July.
Three of the communities will hold remote informational meetings before balloting and are encouraging the use of mail-in ballots, which can be requested from town officials.
Addison is the exception to remote meetings: The selectboard has set its town informational meeting for Addison Town Hall on Route 22A at 7 p.m. on Monday, March 1.
Board member Roger Waterman said the board believes the historic building provides enough room for safe social distancing. Voting will be held from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on March 2 at the town clerk’s office across the parking lot.
Residents will choose between two candidates for one selectboard seat: incumbent Peter Briggs and challenger Geoffrey Grant. There are no other contested races, per town officials.
The board is proposing town spending that would, if residents back it, drop by about $24,000, from $940,448 to $916,233, exclusive of separately warned charitable contributions.
That figure includes a $471,757 general fund budget, toward which the selectboard proposes to apply a $43,642 surplus.
The board is recommending $803,044 of road spending, to be offset by a $107,351 surplus.
The final article in a straightforward Addison warning recommends residents agree to establish a wastewater reserve fund. Essentially, officials said, this measure only changes the existing “Wastewater Project Account” to a reserve fund, and $55,300 of existing project funding (already in the budget) would be transferred to the reserve account.
The move would also allow future annual contributions to the fund to pay for maintenance of the town’s new in-ground septic system, which is designed to serve the town clerk’s office, the fire station, Addison Town Hall, and the church next to the town hall. The church agreed to deed the town hall building back to the town in exchange for septic service.
In Ferrisburgh, incumbent selectboard member Jim Benoit is running for re-election unopposed for a two-year term, while selectboard member Red Muir is facing a challenge for re-election from Billy Larrow, co-owner of the Community Market on North Main Street in Vergennes. Muir and Larrow are each seeking a three-year term on the board
Ferrisburgh will make all its decisions by Australian ballot for what might be the first time ever. March 2 voting will be held from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. in the town’s Route 7 office building and community center.
The town will hold an online informational meeting at 10 a.m. on Feb. 27, the Saturday before balloting.
The warning contains 10 articles detailed in earlier Independent stories. As well as the selectboard’s spending proposal of $2,171,467, residents will be asked to back more pay for the town’s delinquent tax collector, a new tree fund, and $31,905 of charitable requests.
Residents will vote separately on a $30,000 request for a pumper tanker for the town fire department, and $220,000 request for a tandem dump truck for the highway department, of which $190,000 would be financed over five years.
If all that spending is added in, the new budget would be $2,262,562, adding about $74,000 to current spending. Because officials expect a grand list increase, they believe the tax impact will be minimal.
The warning also asks residents adopt changes to the Ferrisburgh Land Use Regulations approved by the Ferrisburgh Planning Commission in December to bring zoning into alignment with the town plan.
Among other things, those laws would create new districts in the Old Hollow Road village and in the mixed-use area, including the school, town offices, homes and commercial property along and near Route 7.
Panton residents will vote in a selectboard race as well as weigh in on lower town spending.
An informational online meeting is set for March 1 at 6:30 p.m., and voting will be held at Panton Town Hall from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on March 2.
In the selectboard race, multi-term incumbent board member Teresa Smith is being challenged for a three-year term by the town’s dog warden, Megan Vorsteveld.
Residents will say yea or nay to a series of financial proposals, including a budget with a face value of $744,375, down about $19,000 from last year’s roughly $763,600 in spending.
Those figures don’t include charitable appropriations, according to Town Clerk Maggie McCormick.
McCormick said the selectboard chose to use $55,000 of a surplus to offset taxes. Therefore, if voters approve all proposed spending on the ballot on March 2, the amount to be raised by taxes this coming year would be about $14,000 more than during the current year.
The other big fiscal question on the March 2 ballot is whether residents will back a $270,000 plan to replace the existing town shed on Panton Road with new salt/sand and equipment sheds. The article calls for a 10-year repayment term at $31,201 per year.
McCormick said the selectboard believes the equipment shed would prolong the life of municipal trucks, and officials agree the existing road materials shed is in poor condition. 
Also on the ballot are the reserve fund questions for which the selectboard seeks voter approval, six in all, which total $50,500. Area nonprofits are requesting a combined total of $8,100 of donations.
Waltham is first out of the gate with an informational meeting: It will be held this coming Monday, Feb. 8, at 7  p.m. Voting hours at Waltham Town Hall will be March 2 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Waltham, like Ferrisburgh, will be voting on its financial articles and choosing town officers by Australian ballot for the first time in recent memory. 
Selectboard member Andrew Martin will be on the ballot running unopposed for another term.
A political change is also proposed: Articles ask residents to approve measures that would make the town clerk and town treasurer appointed positions.
According to the articles, the term of any clerk or treasurer “in office on the date a town votes to eliminate that office shall expire on the 45th day after the vote or on the date upon which the selectboard appoints a clerk under this subsection, whichever occurs first.”
Selectboard Chair Tim Ryan said like other town boards that have proposed this change — including Ferrisburgh and Panton —Waltham’s board members believe with the increased complexity of both jobs, it’s necessary to have a broader applicant pool in the future.
“You need to have the net go a little wider,” Ryan said.
Lucille Evarts, Waltham’s treasurer and assistant town clerk, has been acting clerk since the December passing of Town Clerk Mary Ann Castimore. Evarts said she’d like to serve as clerk for another year.
The board is pitching a budget of $239,086, up about $20,000 over current spending. Increases are due to about $13,500 in road maintenance costs and a $6,500 boost to a buildings and grounds reserve fund.
The board is also seeking approval of three redefined reserve funds and two new funds, all of which are in the budget and total about $22,000.
Residents will be asked to support use of $12,000 of a fund balance to offset tax increases. If they do, the bottom-line increase in money needed to be raised from tax revenue would be about $10,000, Ryan said.

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