By Ben Moger-Williams
Ruth Painter, an organizer of what she says is “probably the first annual” pre-town meeting potluck, said about 50 people attended the event. Painter, a 53-year Williston resident, said the old town meeting used to be held all day and people would break for lunch together between the school meeting and the town meeting.
“This is an opportunity to resurrect that, an opportunity for people to talk with their neighbors,” she said.
Painter, along with residents Jean Hopkins and Carol Burbank had the idea for the potluck, which was held at 6 p.m. in Williston Central School’s dining room, and featured three enchilada casseroles and other fare. She said the supper was a chance to talk about local issues, but also just to get together.
“The people that I was sitting with were reminiscing,” Painter said. “I think they were just enjoying the fact that we were all together.”
An additional 75 people made their way to the school on Monday to hear about the town and school budgets, and a proposed ambulance service and additional fire/rescue staff for Williston.
Williston School Board member Darlene Worth started out the meeting by recognizing outgoing School Board Chairwoman Marty Sundby with a hug and a large bouquet of flowers. Sundby has been chairwoman for about 13 years.
Three notable articles from the town warning were passed by voice vote, two of them related to tax payments. The due dates of property tax payments were bumped up by several days to accommodate the change in the tax prebate system. And voters chose to have the tax prebate delivered “pro rata” instead of “in order.” This fiscal year, income sensitivity prebates or rebates on property taxes will not be sent directly to individuals. Instead, the payment will be sent from the state to the town, which will then take the amount off people’s tax bills. Voters decided to make the payments “pro rata,” which means that the amount of the prebate or rebate will be spread evenly as a discount on all three property tax payments. In addition, the due dates for tax bills for the upcoming fiscal year were pushed forward to Aug. 20, Nov. 15, and Feb. 15.
The other article that was passed had to do with increasing the maximum veteran’s property tax exemption from the current $20,000 to $40,000. The measure offers tax assistance to disabled veterans. Williston currently has nine veterans receiving the $20,000 exemption, Town Clerk Deb Beckett explained. She said the impact on the town was about $5,400.
SCHOOL BUDGET QUESTIONED
Worth led the discussion of the proposed $15.9 million school budget. Several questions were raised from the floor regarding the 7 percent budget increase.
Six-year resident Phil Ronco said that it was unrealistic to expect people to approve a 7 percent increase in the budget, when people in town are not getting comparable raises each year.
“I look at everything that’s going on in Williston,” Ronco said. “I think that the whole spending is out of touch with people’s financial situations.”
The $7.2 million town budget went largely unquestioned. However, Town Manager Rick McGuire pointed out one unknown in the budget, the change in the 1 percent local option tax. The rules governing how the tax is collected changed Jan. 1, and McGuire admitted that although the town anticipated in the budget that revenue from the tax would increase this year to about $2.7 million, officials are unsure if that will actually happen.
“It’s a huge question mark,” McGuire said.
Fire Chief Ken Morton took to the podium at about 10:30 p.m. and due to the late hour, proceeded quickly through his presentation on a proposed ambulance service and fire/rescue staff. Morton had hoped that the six additional staff would fill in the gaps in coverage for the town.
About 100 residents remained for the presentation. One of them, Bill Skiff Jr., was skeptical of the proposal, a sentiment that was to be borne out by a majority of voters at the polls the next day.
“It’s nice that there’s a grant,” Skiff said. “My thinking is, just because something is on sale doesn’t mean you should buy it. … If you want a Cadillac ambulance you’re going to have to pay a Cadillac tax bill. It’s hard for me to write that check three times a year.”