October 31, 2014

Selectboard approves operating budget

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3 percent increase adopted

Jan. 26, 2012

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

 

On what would have been American patriot John Hancock’s 275th birthday, the democratic process was on full display at Monday’s Williston Selectboard meeting, with the Board agreeing upon a fiscal year 2013 operating budget of $8,311,530 and to put an additional budget expenditure on road paving up to a separate vote on Town Meeting Day.

The budget adopted by the Selectboard represents a $247,010 increase over the current fiscal year. However, it shaves $90,700 from the initial budget presented by Williston Town Manager Rick McGuire on Dec. 5, including the decision not to fund an afterschool enrichment coordinator position and the elimination of a proposed $10,000 increase to the town’s Environmental Reserve Fund.

From a municipal tax perspective, the cuts mean that annual property taxes for residents would increase an estimated $10 for every $100,000 of assessed home value — as opposed to the $20 increase originally proposed.

“I think Rick’s done a great job, and I was really happy to see these changes, and I think that they won’t impact things too severely,” said Selectboard member Debbie Ingram.

The subject of most contention was a $160,000 line item for the retreatment of deteriorating town roads that was not included in the budget McGuire presented to the Board.

“As much as I think this is a good budget, it’s a budget I’m worried about, too,” said Selectboard Deputy Chairman Jeff Fehrs. “I don’t think we are appropriately funding various services as we should be, and the one that’s the most glaring to me is retreatment.”

Selectboard member Chris Roy proposed leaving the road paving question up to town residents.

“If people want to make the further investment in the roads, they can think about that and vote about that separately,” Roy said. “I do think voters would appreciate the opportunity to own a portion of the budget and have their voice be heard.”

Roy’s motion unanimously passed, meaning that residents will have the opportunity to cast a separate vote on the retreatment question on Town Meeting Day, in addition to voting on the overall operating budget.

SETTING A PRECEDENT

The theme of democracy in action continued later in the meeting, when resident Allaire Diamond appeared before the Selectboard to advocate the inclusion of a ballot item on the official Town Meeting warning, which proposes that “money is not political speech, that corporations are not persons under the United States Constitution … (and) that the General Assembly of the State of Vermont pass a similar resolution.”

The proposed ballot item is in response to the landmark Jan. 21, 2010 U.S. Supreme Court decision regarding Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which paved the way for the so-called “Super PACs” (political action committees) that can accept unlimited campaign contributions for candidates.

“This is an issue that is important and deserves discussion,” said Diamond, who obtained signatures of 7 percent of eligible town voters on a petition. “That’s the mission behind having it on the warning — to have a townwide discussion on it.”

The question put before the Selectboard was not to decide on the merits of the ballot item, but rather to determine if it is appropriate for that type of nationally charged issue to be debated at the town level.

“You have to make a decision not based on the merits, because if you allow it, then next year or the year after when you have another (petition) coming in — regardless of your view — it’s going to have to be included, I think, once you’ve set a precedent,” said McGuire.

Ingram motioned that the Board allow the item to be included on the Town Meeting warning; with the caveat that a precedent be established to only include such items in the future if at least 5 percent of voters sign a petition.

“It is democracy in action,” Ingram said. “I think we should — for sure — put it on the town warning.”

The motion passed, 4-1, with Roy opposed.

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