Downsized budgets cruise to victory3/5/09

    Observer photo by Greg Duggan
Steven Greenfield drops his ballot into a voting machine at the Williston Armory on Tuesday morning. See story below. 

Downsized budgets cruise to victory3/5/09

Kenney re-elected for third term on Selectboard

March 5, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Voters on Tuesday approved thrifty municipal and school budgets tailored to the tough economic times.



    Observer photo by Tim Simard
Jeff Warren fills out a ballot around noon on at Town Meeting Day on Tuesday.

The $16.3 million Williston School District budget passed by a 636-466 margin. The $7.6 million municipal budget won easy approval, 726-368. And the $21 million Champlain Valley Union High School budget, which was voted on by Williston and three other towns, also got the nod, 1,942-1,364.

Selectboard Chairman Terry Macaig waited outside the polls for the tallies to be posted. He was pleased by the nearly 2-1 margin of approval for a municipal budget that froze spending at current levels.

“I’m gratified,” he said. “We came in with a budget we thought the town could support. We were proved right that the town would support level funding.”

Williston School Board Chairwomen Darlene Worth said she was elated voters supported local education spending despite the recession.

“The economy was our big concern,” she said. “We knew we had to do the best job possible to keep (spending) down.”

The budget votes highlighted a ballot that included just one contested race. Incumbent Ted Kenney easily triumphed over challenger Shelley Palmer. The tally was 754-269. The win gives Kenney a third term on the Selectboard, this one for two years.

Turnout was tiny on a sunny but cold day. Only 15.2 percent of the town’s registered voters cast ballots at the Williston Armory.

Voter incentives

Despite the substantial margin of approval for town and school budgets, interviews outside the polls indicated that not all voters were happy.

“The more they get, the more they spend,” said Rick Antone, who voted against both school and municipal budgets.

His wife, Ruth, said she also rejected the budgets.

“The taxes are atrocious,” the couple said as they left the polls.

Kevin Burbank also voted no on the budgets.

“For the current economical (climate), everyone is having job loss,” he said. “It’s hard to pay  higher taxes.”

But other voters recognized the efforts to limit spending.

“I came largely to support the work that the School Board and the Selectboard have done putting together an austere budget,” said Aaron Cummings, who has a daughter at Williston Central School.

Stephanie Bliss, who was accompanied by her daughter Kaylee, voted for the school and municipal budgets. Bliss also said she appreciated the frugal spending plans.

“They all looked great to me,” she said. “It all made sense.”

Shelley Forrest also approved both budgets, saying she felt officials try hard to economize.

“I pretty much think they do a good job in keeping costs down and so I gave them their chance,” Forrest said.

Town and school board members had focused on producing lean budgets this year amid the worst recession in decades. Spending rises only slightly in each school budget. The municipal budget is down by a fraction of a percentage point. Combined, the budgets are expected to result in a slight drop in property taxes.

Tuesday’s small turnout — only 1,114 of Williston’s 7,337 registered voters cast ballots — was a stark contrast with the November election, which featured an historic presidential race that drew 71 percent of the local electorate.

Voters trickled into the cavernous, mostly empty Armory throughout Tuesday. Only a modest dinner-hour rush before the polls closed helped push the total ballots cast over 1,000.

Town Clerk Deb Beckett speculated that frigid temperatures kept the early turnout low but also noted that “there’s not a lot on the ballot” to attract voters.

The lack of contested races may have contributed to the attenuated turnout. And even that one contest between the liberal Kenney and conservative Palmer generated little controversy.

Still, voter Carol Davis said she wanted to come out and support Kenney. Davis said she has worked with him and trusted his judgment.

“I’ve known him from a while back and he’s a great guy and does a great job for the town,” she said.

Burbank voted for Palmer, who had cast himself as a budget hawk who would cut spending.

“I figured it’s time to have someone new on the board,” Burbank said.

The unopposed candidates winning re-election included Macaig, who will serve another three-year term. He received 917 votes, the most of any candidate.

Williston School Board member Deborah Baker-Moody, running unopposed for a three-year term, received 870 votes. Fellow board member Laura Gigliotti garnered 854 votes for a two-year term. And CVU School Board member Jonathan Milne won another three-year term with 883 votes.

Two other elected offices drew newcomers but did not involve a contest because the incumbent stepped down.

Marcy Kass will serve a five-year term as library trustee. She replaces Stephen Mease, who retired after 10 years. Susan Williford also won re-election as trustee.

On the Board of Listers, Charles Coney ran unopposed for a three-year term. He replaces veteran lister Fred Webster. Kermit Laclair will serve another year as town constable.

In other ballot items, voters approved $200,000 in bond funding for a new elevator at Williston Central School. Voters also OK’d expenditures for new school buses in Williston and at CVU.

Editor Greg Duggan and reporter Tim Simard contributed to this story.


Ballot tallies

Approve a $7.6 million municipal budget?

Yes: 726

No: 368

Approve a $16.3 million Williston school budget?

Yes: 636

No: 466

Approve a $21 million CVU high school budget?

Yes: 1,942

No: 1,364

Selectboard, two-year seat

Ted Kenney: 754

Shelley Palmer: 269

Replace $200,000 elevator at Williston Central School?

Yes: 690

No: 411

Replace $105,000 Williston school bus?

Yes: 624

No: 471

Replace $105,000 CVU high school bus?

Yes: 2,204

No: 1,358


Notes: CVU budget and bus replacement votes include ballots cast in Charlotte, Hinesburg and Shelburne. All numbers are based on unofficial tallies as of Tuesday night.


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