December 16, 2018

Voters strengthen county ties

By Jason Starr

Observer staff

Williston voters gave a nod to Chittenden County citizenship Tuesday at Town Meeting Day, voting against withdrawing from a regional land conservation group and voting to join a new regional emergency dispatch service.

Voters also overwhelmingly approved an $11.1 million town budget for the upcoming fiscal year, complete with a $500,000 spending increase over the current year, as well as the Champlain Valley School District’s $76.8 million budget.

A total of 1,501 voters out of roughly 9,000 registered came out to vote at Williston Central School.

The vote to retain town membership in the Winooski Valley Park District was tight, with 771 voting to stay in and 670 voting to withdraw. In January, the selectboard split 3-2 on whether to keep the question on the ballot.

Resident Ben Rose said during Monday night’s annual meeting in the school auditorium that withdrawing from the district would be “short-sighted.”

“In Vermont, we don’t have county government, and we sometimes get a little parochial and look at things in terms of town boundaries without considering the county context,” he said. “(The park district) has made Chittenden County a more beautiful place.”

Rep. Jim McCullough echoed Rose’s thoughts, and Eric Howe of the Williston Conservation Commission also urged remaining in the district.

Town Manager Rick McGuire had questioned the value the district provides for Williston. He noted that the $32,000 the town pays into the district annually amounts to the most per capita of any of the other six supporting towns because of a funding formula conceived in the 1980s that equally weights population and property values. At the same time, none of the 18 parks in the district are accessible directly from within town borders.

That could change now that voters have affirmed the town’s commitment to the district. Last fall, the town was granted a 29-acre parcel along the Winooski River by landowner Peter Jacob. The district has offered to take over the parcel, create a parking lot and trails, and manage it long-term.

The town’s conservation staff already manages 1,800 acres of town-owned land. That doesn’t include the planned town purchase of the 393-acre Catamount Outdoor Family Center property later this year.

With the town’s land management capabilities “at capacity,” Howe said, the park district is poised to prove its worth.

“The Jacob parcel is a good opportunity to develop the partnership that we’ve been trying to have with the park district,” Howe said.

Observer photo by Jason Starr
Voters enter Williston Central School on Tuesday.

‘Emergencies know no boundaries’

Williston joined Burlington, Colchester, Milton, South Burlington and Winooski on Tuesday in voting to join the Chittenden County Public Safety Authority, a new cooperative designed to streamline the dispatch of neighboring police, fire and ambulance services. Shelburne was the only town to vote against joining; Essex officials had earlier decided not to put it on the ballot.

According to McGuire, creating the district is a two-step process. Now that it’s clear which municipalities are in, the cost-sharing and operational details can be ironed out. It will be a future decision of the selectboard whether to make use of the service, McGuire said.

The regional dispatch center is expected to be housed in South Burlington.

“This does not commit the town to receiving that service or paying for that service,” McGuire said Monday night. “It gives us a seat at the table.”

Currently, the Williston fire and emergency departments are dispatched by Town of Shelburne dispatchers. Williston police receive free after-hours dispatch services from the Vermont State Police. Response times can be improved by as much as 70 seconds under the regional plan, McGuire said, as dispatchers will have equal access to multiple response agencies.

“There is a significant potential for improved services,” he said. “We have these artificial boundaries (that separate) our communities. Emergencies really know no boundaries.”

Other ballot items

Also Tuesday, voters approved the town acquisition of solar panels located on town property behind town hall at a cost of $345,000. A majority of the cost ($200,000) will come from the town’s existing reserves, according to town officials, and $125,000 will come from funds remaining from a public works facility project. The town is also counting on $20,000 in net metering credits.

In seven uncontested elections, Joy Limoge and Terry Macaig retained their seats on the selectboard; Brendan McMahon and Josilyn Adams were elected to the Champlain Valley School Board; Lauren Koumjian was elected to the Board of Listers; and Dianne Downer and Charity Clark were elected to the Board of Library Trustees.

Williston’s ballots were comingled with ballots from Hinesburg, Charlotte, Shelburne and St. George to determine the outcome of Champlain Valley School District questions. In addition to passing the annual school budget, district voters also approved the purchase of six school buses and a reallocation of $819,000 left over from a building renovation in Shelburne for use at other buildings across the district, including Williston’s Allen Brook School.

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