March 5, 2009
By Tim Simard
With snow falling outside and a small number of articles to vote on, Williston’s annual Town Meeting Monday night was decidedly quiet and quick.
Observer photo by Tim Simard
Carter Smith (right), a Williston resident and special education director for the school district, and Charlie and Ruth Magill, read through the town’s 2008 annual report at Town Meeting on Monday night.
Town Moderator Tony Lamb said it was one of the quieter town meetings he could remember. No contentious items were up for discussion and the dicey roads may have kept people away, he said after the meeting.
Roughly 75 people turned out to hear presentations on municipal and school budgets for Williston and Champlain Valley Union High School, as well as vote on a few housekeeping procedures for the town and school district. The meeting lasted a little more than two hours.
A few residents voiced concern about the proposed $16.32 million Williston school budget, a 0.3 percent increase over the current budget. Two residents spoke out about high teacher contracts, finding it unfair that teachers get a raise every year while some taxpayers are losing their jobs or facing tough pay cuts.
“If the budget doesn’t pass, it’s because the community is hurting and our economic power is decreasing,” resident Bill Rensch said.
School Board Chairwoman Darlene Worth told the audience there were a number of teacher contracts being negotiated throughout Chittenden County and she was watching them carefully. She said she doesn’t expect to see the same kind of raises that have happened in previous negotiations. Williston’s teacher contracts expire next year.
“I don’t think it’ll be like it was in the past ever again,” Worth said.
CVU School Board Chairwoman Jeanne Jensen also defended the school budgets and the reasons behind the lack of major cuts in services.
“It’s easy to say to cut the schools’ (budgets), but what you’re doing is cutting services to children,” Jensen said to some applause.
Resident Ruth Magill spoke in favor of the school budgets in spite of the harsh economic times.
“I am pleasantly surprised to see you keep the budgets as low as they are,” she said.
Residents also unanimously voted for the town to accept unanticipated grants and gifts. In future years, Town Manager Rick McGuire said a new state law will allow the Selectboard to make that decision without voter approval.
Voters also unanimously approved the creation of a reserve fund for the school’s construction money. Elaine Pinckney, the Chittenden South Supervisory Union superintendent and a Williston resident, said the school has always had the money set aside in its budget, but needed voter approval this year to create an officially-named fund. Pinckney also said this was something that would not need to be voted on again in the future.
Overall, residents who attended said they were pleased to make the trek out in the snow to hear about the state of the town and schools for next year. Resident Sam Grover said while he lamented some cuts to special education services in the school budget, he was pleased with the final product.
“The district has done a great job keeping increases to a minimum,” Grover said, adding that he planned to vote for the municipal budget and both school budgets at the polls on Tuesday.
Resident Pat Troxell said she was also pleased with all of the budgets and would vote for them the next day. She said she was “optimistic” about the budgets passing.
“The ability for both the town and schools to keep budgets low like this is amazing,” she said.
Resident Ken Stone also believed all the boards did a good job in their work, and hoped the budgets would get the green light from voters.
“I’m confident they’ll pass,” Stone said, after a little hesitation.