WINHALL -- In what was the shortest Town Meeting in the past two years, voters approved both the town and the school budgets.
During the school portion of the meeting -- which preceded the town portion -- voters amended and approved an article that dealt with The Mountain School’s tuition. Approval of the article -- which increased the tuition rate from $13,000 per pupil to $13,550 for resident students in grades K-6 and $13,750 for students in grades 7-8 -- increased the school budget by $33,930 from $2,810,046 to $2,843,976. Though the amended article caused the the tax rate to increase by about 2 cents to $1.69 cents per $100 of assessed property value, it is still 13 cents lower than last year’s tax rate of $1.82
The tuition approved by residents on Tuesday was what The Mountain School had originally requested prior to Town Meeting. However, the Winhall School Board lowered it to $13,000.
On the town side of things, voters approved the town budget of $3,099,457, which represents about a $167,753 increase over last year’s budget of $2,931,704.
While the tax rate will not be set until August, the projected tax rate is .3433 cents per $100 of assessed property value, which represents an increase of more than 3 cents over last year’s tax rate of .0316.
An article that garnered some discussion during the school portion of the meeting was the proposed creation of a Tax Stabilization Reserve Fund.
"The district’s anticipating a surplus this year. We’d like to direct some of that surplus to the creation of this fund," said Superintendent of the Bennington-Rutland Supervisory Union Daniel French. "The tax rate is going to drop about 13 cents. We also have this issue of the surplus. We could apply the surplus and reduce the tax rate even further, but because the tax rate is already going to come down 13 cents and you have the surplus, traditionally what I recommend a board to do in this case is to put that surplus aside into a reserve fund so that you don’t have this big yo-yo affect in your tax rate. This could take the edge off the tax increase in any given year."
Winhall School Board Vice Chairman Martin Nadler said the board would be budgeting more money next year as fewer kids would be exiting the system.
"Each kid that exits the system saves us almost $15,000. So if we exit 10 kids we save $150,000," Nadler said. "We’re exiting less kids at the end of next year than we planned to exit at the end of this coming year. So, we’re going to need relatively more money and we’re not going to have this cushion. We’re going to be in a penalty situation. So, it doesn’t pay to take some of that surplus this year. We’re going to need all of it next year to mitigate the increase we’re going to have in our tax rate."
If the district were to exceed the threshold for education spending, Winhall would have to pay $1 for every dollar it spent beyond the threshold. Following some brief discussion, the article passed unanimously.
Voters approved Long Trail and Burr and Burton’s tuition of $14,875 per pupil for the coming year.
Residents also discussed and approved an article asking if up to $30,000 should be transferred from any anticipated General Fund surplus to the Bus Reserve Fund. The school district intends to try to get through one more year using a bus that was purchased in 2009 before it was replaced.
Robert Oakes was re-elected for a three-year term on the Selectboard with 124 votes. Oakes was running unopposed. Scott Bushee -- who was also running unopposed for a three-year term on the Winhall School Board -- was also re-elected, earning 137 votes.
In the only contested race for lister, Lucia Wing defeated Edgar Rice 81-58.
Elizabeth Grant was also re-elected for a three-year term as town clerk, receiving 143 votes.