November 28, 2014

Town Meeting voters unanimously approve joining CCTA

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Town Manager, Williston and CVU School Boards explain budgets

By Tim Simard
Observer staff

In a resounding chorus of "yeas," Williston voters approved the town's membership in the Chittenden County Transportation Authority. The vote was taken at Monday night's Town Meeting at the Williston Central School auditorium.

Townspeople also heard from Town Manager Rick McGuire about the municipal budget, and from Darlene Worth and Jeanne Jensen of the Williston School Board and Champlain Valley Union High School Board on their respective budgets. The town and Williston School budgets were approved at the polls on Tuesday. Numbers for the CVU budget, which is voted on by residents of the four towns served by the high school, had not been released by press deadline.

By approving the CCTA membership, Williston will soon see a fixed route service between Essex Junction and the University Mall in South Burlington via Routes 2 and 2A, according to CCTA General Manager Chris Cole. Eight stops along the route will be in Williston.

McGuire told the crowd of more than 100 people that joining the CCTA saved the town money in the long run, and gives the community a seat on the CCTA Board, which will allow for input on policy matters.

The cost to the town will be $170,000, about $5,000 cheaper than what the town pays for services this year as a nonmember, McGuire said.

"The town recommends that we vote yes on the article," he said before the vote.

Cole told the gathered voters that by joining CCTA the town would get benches and bus shelters —
serviced by CCTA — as well as additional advantages.

"We're a membership organization," Cole said. "Our job is to make members happy."

A few people asked questions while others praised CCTA's accomplishments in public transportation. One voter asked how CCTA knew what constituted a good bus route, going on to suggest a few alternatives the transportation group could look into.

"That's the beauty of joining CCTA, you get a spot on the board," Cole said.

Residents at the town meeting unanimously voted "yes" on Article 5 – becoming a member of CCTA. Cole gave a pleased nod of approval to McGuire after the vote was taken.

After the vote, McGuire spoke to the crowd about the municipal budget, giving voters a last-minute chance to review the numbers before the following day's election. The proposed municipal budget was $7.6 million, a 5 percent increase from last year.

Using a PowerPoint presentation, McGuire gave examples of how and why service costs change and budgets increase every year, as well as what exactly is being offered to residents in their town budgets. He used an example of winter maintenance, the costs of which vary with the severity of the weather, to illustrate rising costs and service demand, which includes services such as plowing routes, truck repairs and hourly and overtime pay. McGuire was quick to say it was just one example of how the town figures in service and recourse costs.

"We work from the ground up," he said. "As I said in the beginning, it's all an estimate."

After McGuire spoke, members of the Williston and CVU School Boards explained what went into the rising costs of both budgets. Williston School Board Chairwoman Worth highlighted that adding all-day kindergarten and extending the school day did not add huge costs. The proposed Williston School Budget came to $16.24 million, a 3.7 percent increase and the lowest increase in the past several years.

CVU School Board Chair Jeanne Jensen also spoke about changes in the high school's proposed budget. The budget came to $20.7 million and represents a 4.7 percent increase. Jensen said the budget allowed for additional staffing and enhancement of programs already in place.

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