DOVER — Voters could have less choices when it comes to electing officials after annual Town Meeting this year.
"Basically, it occurred to me when we were going through this warning that because you moved a majority of the treasurer's salary to the book keeper position, that position more or less becomes appointed. With the elimination of the lister's office, those positions will become appointed. And with the elimination of the delinquent tax collector being devoted to first constable, that position will become appointed. So, we'll lose five important positions that were once elected, which will now become appointed positions. Appointed by you folks," Town Clerk Andy McLean told the Selectboard Tuesday during an informational meeting where annual Town Meeting articles were discussed before the March 1 event. "Something about taking that much power away from the electorate at Town Meeting and giving it to the Selectboard rubs me the wrong way. I think that the people really need to consider those questions."
Selectboard Chairman Randy Terk looked at it not as losing positions but changing the way those positions are filled. He said he thinks it's a move that will benefit the town.
"You don't necessarily have the same opportunity to vet a person that's running for office that you may when you have five people considering the qualifications of an individual for a particular position. We certainly gave that a lot of thought when we split the treasurer position, making the treasurer an elected official, but essentially it's a stipend and going to a book keeper," Terk said. "We never had any problems but there's always the risk."
Book keeper Marco Tallini is running for treasurer after being hired. He replaced Patty Westlake who retired over the summer.
"I think the democratic process here is not being lost. I think it's still very much alive," said Tallini, who says the jobs are becoming more sophisticated. "We elect the school board who hires a principal. Would you like to see a principal elected? No. I think that's the same argument. I think it's a fair balance."
McLean responded, "Those are the best reasons to do this without a doubt," pointing out that people appointed are working for laws, zoning bylaws and statutes, not necessarily the board. Still, he worried whether appointed officials might make different choices when they know a raise might be coming up.
Board of Listers Chairwoman Linda Sherman had come to the Selectboard previously to suggest appointing an assessor rather than having an elected board. The person would have the same duties, according to Article 13 which asks voters to approve of eliminating the office of lister. An assistant would still help out.
"I think we'll have more consistency," said Terk, noting difficulties experienced in years past with keeping a full three-member board.
The training for listers is "very involved," added Selectboard Vice Chairwoman Victoria Capitani. And new listers may realize they're not cut out for the job after extensive training.
Other articles ask voters to expend $2,167,710 for operational expenses and $1,374,030 for highway expenses, which is $126,846 less than last year's budget. They will consider whether to raise $650,000 for the Capital Paving Fund, $250,000 for the Capital Equipment Fund, $50,000 for the Capital Building Improvement Fund and $50,000 for the Town of Dover Legal Defense Fund, which is meant to address any issues the town may face with changes coming down from the Legislature.
Currently, the legal defense fund holds approximately $37,500. A lobbyist was previously paid through the fund but after the education law Act 46 passed last legislative session, the town decided not to enter into another contract. A committee formed during Dover School meetings is looking at Act 46 options from a legal standpoint, said Terk who is a member of it. The law is mandating district consolidation.
"One of things that we've discussed," Terk said, "Is should we be looking at a coalition? Should we be looking at joining other towns to defend ourselves?"
Asked about whether he heard of any towns starting a similar fund, Terk said, "No. But that has never stopped Dover from being at the forefront."
"It allows us to be really nimble if we need to be," Capitani said. "So we can move quickly if we need to."
Requests from Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies and Memorial Hall Center for the Arts Inc. Dover Cinema will be considered. MHCA is looking for $5,202 to pay taxes and SeVEDS wants $3,372.
Dover School Board's proposed $3,199.383 budget will result in an increase from last year of 1.57 percent per equalized pupil, which is the rate allowable under Act 46. But on Town Meeting Day, that number could be lower. While there was a possible error in board member stipends, they cited changes in health care plans and other budgetary items in ways the figure could be reduced.
"This number does have already figured into it a transfer of the reserve fund to get us below the penalty that the Legislature imposed last year," said Dover School Board Chairman Rich Werner, referring to the spending thresholds set for each district which take student population into account. "We have to decrease the tax rate by two cents. Because according to the state, we have lost a few pupils. Even though our numbers in the building are higher, the weighted average daily membership is lower."
The board felt strongly about already sending enough money to the state, Werner said, and didn't want to send any penalty money. Inside the Town Report is a page saying the town raised $15 million and sent $10 million to the State of Vermont Education Fund.
"There is no accountability for 66 percent of your tax dollars," the document said above a chart showing 7 percent of taxes raised went to highway expenses, 7 percent went to operational expenses, 13 percent went to local education and 7 percent went to capital and other funds.
Other school district articles ask voters to place $10,550 in the Capital Vehicle Fund; $12,000 in the Capital Building Fund and take $330,000 from the Capital Reserve Fund to offset the homestead tax rate. The latter figure could be reduced to $180,000 at Town Meeting.
The purchase of a $4,655 oven will come before voters, too.
"We thought instead of having to keep spending money on repairs, we'd get a new oven," said Werner. "We are looking at a fairly large, commercial, 60-inch oven."
As in past years, voters will be asked to set the annual high school tuition rate to approved independent high schools. And Burr and Burton Academy's figure was chosen rather than a statewide average. This year, it's $16,250.
"The board has never really taken a stand on it pro or con," Werner said. "We've just always presented it to voters and let the voters decide."
Contact Chris Mays at email@example.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.