Town Meeting 2016: Putney breezes by all their articles

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PUTNEY >> All articles passed at the March 1 Town Meeting, but some of the most-discussed topics were not voted upon.

When the Highway Fund was discussed under Article 13, residents spoke up and asked about the sidewalk construction that has been long discussed, but was not put in the budget.

"Any plans for extending the sidewalk North?" was the question asked by Ted Dodd of Putney that started the sidewalk discussion.

In 2013 it was announced that Putney would receive $250,000 for sidewalk improvements after years of discussion. The funds would come from the Agency of Transportation for the project, which seeks to extend a walkway up Route 5 toward Landmark College.

"It's a very slow process," said Selectboard member Josh Laughlin in response to Dodd's question. "We're working toward phase two and three for extending the sidewalk."

According to Laughlin, phase two involves sidewalk construction from the General Store up to above the parking lot at Basketville. Phase three will go from Basketville up the rest of the way. However none of this construction is included in this budget because they do not have state approval. Laughlin said they are currently working on permitting and engineering. Some members of the audience voiced their concerns in safety of college students walking in dangerous areas, while others wanted to have answers of when the construction of this project may begin.

"We are waiting for the right of way for phase two, which is that Basketville portion," said Town Manager Cynthia Stoddard. "If we can get that done quickly, we can get our bid process out within the time where contractors are bidding."

Since the sidewalk construction was not figured into the article, members of the board discussed what the sum of money would be used for. The town voted to raise and appropriate the sum of $825,950 to defray its expenses and liabilities for the Highway Fund, ensuing fiscal year (July 1, 2016-June 30, 2017). Some of those expenses were discussed at Tuesday's meeting.

The intention is to pave River Road with $100,000 from the Highway Fund, but Selectboard members said they will also be applying for a roadway grant from VTrans for an additional $175,000, but the grant was not included in Article 13 because the Selectboard did not know if the town would receive the grant. Nothing will be paved in addition to what has already been paved.

"If we don't get the grant, we will pave what we have with $100,000 on River Road," said Stoddard.

While some voters questioned some of the articles, most were overjoyed to adopt Article 8 and felt it was long overdue. Article 8 was passed to authorize the Selectboard to borrow an amount not to exceed $30,000 to purchase a Truck (Fire Chief Vehicle) for the Fire Department, to be repaid over a period of not more than five years. This vehicle will replace Putney Fire Chief Tom Goddard's personal vehicle, which he has being using for work as well.

"In the big picture, for the 14 years that I've been fire chief, my personal vehicle has never really been my personal vehicle," said Goddard. "It's always been set up as a first response vehicle, command vehicle and chief's vehicle."

While Putney had been paying for the vehicle's gas he was never compensated for mileage. Goddard discussed this matter with the Selectboard at an earlier date, which led to this town vote.

"The mileage that I'm accruing over the course of a year is increasing and it's just time to not have that occurring on my vehicle and have a town department vehicle," said Goddard.

The vehicle would be taken home with Goddard, which would allow him to respond to complaints, fire calls, EMS calls and others. He commented that in the event that he is out of town for an extended point of time, the vehicle would stay with the assistant fire chief or be at the station for the department's use. Voters welcomed this article and showed their appreciation for Goddard.

"I would like to thank the chief for having put his personal vehicle into service for 14 years!" exclaimed Catherine Howard of Putney. "Wow, I think it's about time the town took over, thank you." The crowd applauded.

The total cost for the vehicle is $43,000 and $13,000 will come from the General Fund. Janet Goldstein of Putney asked the board how the vehicle purchase would affect her taxes. Stoddard said that when they ask for borrowing, during the first fiscal year (2017 budget), there is a $13,000 direct capital expense, or "down payment." In the following years, the $40,000 is spread across five years. According to Stoddard, with Putney's Grand List a penny raises $22,000, so it will be about a half a cent on the tax rate over the next few years.

The fire department was not the only one asking for a vehicle. Article 9 asked to see if voters would authorize the Selectboard to borrow an amount not to exceed $100,000 to purchase a dump truck for the Highway Department, to be repaid over a period of not more than five years. The town Highway Superintendent Brian Harlow spoke up about his need for the vehicle.

"We have a 2008 one-ton that is currently doing the job of this truck and we spend a lot of money working on it, because it's really not enough of a truck to do the job we're trying to do with it," said Harlow.

Harlow said he feels it is time to upgrade to a full size dump truck and he is thinking it will have a wing and a tailgate sander, similar to the vehicle they are currently using, but on a "larger scale." A wing is the side plow that hangs off the side of the plow. Harlow noted that the older vehicle will not be traded in, but will continue to be used by his team. After hearing Harlow's and the Selectboard's case, the town voted in Article 9.

Other discussion was heavily spent around a presentation by Nancy Olson of Putney around tax exempt properties in town. Olson spoke on behalf of the Tax Exempt Committee, where she revealed they found voters can exempt properties from municipal taxes, from education taxes or both and there can be partial or total exemptions.

"When voters decide to exempt a property, they are saying with their vote that they value the organization and its mission enough to assume responsibility for the tax the property would otherwise generate," said Olson.

From the Grand List of Putney 1,113 of the 1,115 parcels are taxable and of those, 71 are tax exempt. One is owned by the United States, seven are owned by the state of Vermont and 32 are owned by the town (which includes 15 cemeteries). Of the 31 remaining properties, nine exemptions relate to homestead values of disabled veterans who are entitled to $10,000 off the house lot value. Last year the town voted to exempt $40,000 from that. Three exemptions are for houses of worship, five are for the private schools and Landmark College and 14 are contract or book exemptions.

"As voters we are really in control of only 14 of them," said Olson.

What really got the crowd discussing these exemptions was when Olson mentioned how much the private schools voluntarily donate to the town each year. Those donations in 2015 were: Grammar School, $1,600; Greenwood School, $4,000; Landmark College, $33,700 and Putney School, $23,100. These numbers prompted residents at Town Meeting to criticize, while others defended the private schools, which they said are valuable and provide jobs to the town.

Selectboard members noted that they do lobby some of the schools to increase their spending.

Toward the end of the meeting two locals, Pamela Cubbage and Daniel Hoviss, were recipients of the Community Service award. Both were noted for their work in keeping the area "green," which as a result has saved the town some money, according to Gino Palmeri who presented one of the awards.

At the end of the meeting, Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark explained to the town why his department chose to move deputy Melissa Evans from Putney to Vernon after she had served in town for six years.

"It was not an easy decision to make, it happened rather short notice, but over time I think it will benefit everyone, including moving Melissa's career forward, none of us want to keep her held back," said Clark.

Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275


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