Vote might not end roundabout, ambulance debate (2/25/10)

Board unsure about reaction results of balloting

Feb. 25, 2010

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

The biggest issues facing Williston voters — a roundabout and a new ambulance service — may not be settled at the ballot box.

Selectboard members say they don’t know what they will do if voters say no to the roundabout, which is planned for the intersection where U.S. 2 meets North Williston and Oak Hill roads. They are also noncommittal about the fate of the new ambulance service if voters reject the budget that funds it.

Asked what he would do if the roundabout was defeated, Selectboard member Jeff Fehrs’ response summed up the board’s ambiguity on the issue.

“That’s a good question,” he said. “I don’t really have a good answer to it.”

The Observer asked each Selectboard member how they would react to a rejection of the roundabout or the budget. Ted Kenney was on vacation and could not be reached for comment.

Board Chairman Terry Macaig said if the roundabout is defeated he would seek more information about what residents want at the intersection, perhaps by holding more public forums on the issue.

Chris Roy said his willingness to reverse his previous roundabout support could be influenced by the vote tally. A close vote would make it harder to decide, but if there was a lopsided no vote then he wouldn’t keep pushing for a roundabout.

Judy Sassorossi warned that the alternative might be an intrusive traffic light and a new turn lane. But she, too, said she wasn’t sure what she would do if the voters rejected the roundabout.

“I haven’t made up my mind, absolutely,” Sassorossi said.

On the budget vote, which may end up being a referendum on the ambulance service rather than a decision on spending, Selectboard members also said they were undecided.

“If the budget is voted down, we would have to have a long conversation and a lot of research,” Fehrs said.

Macaig said it would be logical to first consider deleting the ambulance service. But he and other board members noted that budget defeat leaves open the question of what voters want. A no vote, they said, could simply show voters are unhappy with spending or property taxes.

Indeed, each issue comes with subtleties that make the results of Tuesday’s balloting less than definitive.

Roundabout foes circulated a petition to put the issue on the ballot. The Selectboard reluctantly agreed to the vote despite the fact that it would not be binding.

State law says that issues that don’t involve municipal spending are solely the responsibility of municipal governing boards. The roundabout is ranked as one of the 50 most hazardous intersections in the state, making the project eligible for federal funding.

Sassorossi and other board members assert that the Vermont Agency of Transportation has the final say on the roundabout because it is on a state highway. Agency spokesman John Zicconi said last week that it was the town’s decision.

“They say that, but ultimately it’s the state’s call,” Sassorossi said, noting that if accidents continue to plague the intersection the agency is bound to insist on changes.

It is unclear if federal funding will be available by the time the roundabout, which is projected to cost nearly $1 million, is ready to be built. It is expected to take years to secure rights-of-way and permits for the project.

Board members also note that the wording of the ballot item leaves open the question of what traffic improvement voters want if they reject the roundabout.

The ambulance service is expected to pay for itself by charging fees to patients’ health insurers, with revenue projected to exceed expenses by $28,445. Because of that, board members note that other services would have to be cut or taxes raised if the ambulance service is taken out of the budget.

The quandary on the ambulance service that a budget defeat would present only emphasizes the need to place new services on the ballot, said Fehrs, the only board member who voted against including it in the budget.

“Why is it that we are afraid of what voters feel on this issue?” he said. “It didn’t feel right to me that we didn’t seek voter input on this issue.”



Voting on March 2 takes place from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Williston Armory. Those who can’t go to the polls can pick up absentee or early voting ballots at Town Hall. Items on the ballot:

· Adopt a $7.7 million municipal budget. The budget represents a 2.4 percent increase in spending and would boost the property tax rate by a penny to 21 cents.

· Should the town replace a four-way stop sign at the intersection of U.S. 2, Oak Hill Road and North Williston Road with a roundabout?

· Elect incumbent Selectboard member Jeff Fehrs to a three-year term. Fehrs, like all other candidates on the ballot, is running unopposed.

· Elect incumbent Selectboard member Chris Roy to another two-year term.

· Elect Bo Tur to a five-year term as Dorothy Alling Memorial Library trustee. She will replace longtime trustee Ann Hazelrigg.

· Elect Jerry Huetz to another three-year term on the Board of Listers.

· Elect Kermit LaClair to another one-year term as town constable.

· Elect incumbent Williston School Board member Holly Rouelle to a three-year term.

· Elect incumbent Williston School Board member Keith Roy to a two-year term.

· Elect Polly Malik to a three-year term on the Champlain Valley Union High School Board. Malik will replace Meg Hart-Smith, who is stepping down after six years.

· Elect incumbent Champlain Valley Union High School Board member Jeanne Jensen to a three-year term.

· Adopt a $16.5 million budget for the Williston School District. The budget represents a 1 percent increase in spending.

· Adopt a $21.4 million Champlain Valley Union High School Budget. The budget represents a 1.5 percent increase.

· Allocate $225,000 in fund balance for CVU to use in the school’s budget.

· Borrow $86,000 to purchase a school bus.