Town Meeting 2016: Westminster voters vote against property purchase


WESTMINSTER — After about three and a half hours of debate, Article 8 was defeated at Town Meeting.

The question of whether or not to purchase former Selectboard member Peter Barret's house for $224,200 over five years was what led voters to a paper ballot on Feb. 27 at their Town Meeting. Barrett's home is adjacent to the town hall and the Selectboard felt the purchase of the building would allow room for more parking and space, but the voters could not reason with the purchase of another parcel.

"We were not welcomed with that proposal at all, which is sad, it became personal for some reason," said Town Manager Russell Hodgkins.

At a Selectboard meeting on Dec. 21, 2015, Hodgkins read aloud the letter of resignation for Barrett, which went into effect December 22, 2015. Then chairman, Sheldon Beebe, called the board into executive session, in which Barrett did not participate. Right after coming out of executive session, the Board advised the town manager to look into the Town's Commissions and Organizations for interest in the property presently owned by Peter & Wilma Barrett. According to the meeting minutes, the Board was given an option to purchase the property of the at the assessed value.

Toby Young made a motion to appoint Nancy Dalzell to fill the open position on the Selectboard for the remainder of Peter Barrett's term. The motion passed 3-0. The Chair did not vote

Before Town Meeting on Feb. 27, according to Hodgkins, two public meetings were held to inform the public of this intended purchase. Hodgkins said there are six parking spaces at the town hall, two of which are employee parking spaces, but that the majority of visitors park behind the post office across the street, which the town hall owns, and some days people park on private lawns and on the road. Hodgkins emphasized the safety concerns of having parking across the street with no cross walk and said that he himself along with an elderly lady have been almost ran over by drivers. He noted that VTrans has denied the town a sidewalk twice.

"Even Windham regional got involved and VTrans said there was not enough pedestrian traffic," said Hodgkins.

When the idea of the purchase became public knowledge many came to the Selectboard and town manger with their concerns and questions.

"Concerned people came in the morning before that meeting (Feb. 24) with formal letters of questions, they got those answers that day, but still didn't seem to want answers. It wasn't going to pass period," said Hodgkins.

Hodkins was correct, as the three and half hours discussion on Article 8 went to a paper ballot, which resulted in 148 people who voted no and 56 who voted yes.

Structural engineer Tim Schaal looked at the building and determined that it would require some repairs. Hodgkins was quoted that the repairs would cost between $15,000 to $20,000, and then fire and safety said that with those repairs the building could receive a certificate of occupancy.

"The debate went from adding another building of age to our town realty, to we need to get rid of some instead of adding one," said Hodgkins. "It was the same old, same old."

The day before Town Meeting, the board was given the opportunity to receive an anonymous donation of taxes for Barrett's house forever as long as the historic society had a roof over its head. But Barrett said it "didn't seem to make a difference" to voters.

Article 9 was taken off docket because Article 8 was shot down. Article 9 asked, "if the voters of the Town of Westminster will authorize the Selectboard to sell the parcel of land and Post Office building located on Route 5 in the Westminster Village for a price to be determined in the discretion of the Selectboard."

Voters did approve Article 4, which asked if the voters will authorize the Selectboard to purchase a 2016 grader for the sum of $360,000 reduced by trade-in of existing grader, with balance to be financed through a five-year promissory note in an amount not to exceed $175,000.

On Tuesday, March 1, voters passed a $2,777,827 budget for River Valley Technical Center and a $7,444,027 budget for Union High School District 27.

Voters of the Westminster Town School District approved the school board to expend $5,033,503 for the ensuing fiscal year. It is estimated that this proposed budget will result in education spending of $16,099.08 per equalized pupil, which is 1.33 percent higher than the 2015 year.

Susan J. Harlow was elected into the Selectboard three-year term with 831 votes against incumbent Paul Banik with 236 votes. Francis (Nancy) Dalzell was elected as Selectboard member (two-year term) with 495 votes against Kevin Hughes with 435 votes. Cheryl Charles was elected as school director (two-year term) with 585 votes against Molly Banik with 462 votes.

Bernie Sanders took the lead for the presidential primary in Westminster with 857 votes followed by Hillary Clinton, 102 and Martin O'Malley with 1. Donald Trump led the Republican polls with 91 votes followed by John Kasich, 54; Marco Rubio, 43; Ted Cruz, 19; Jeb Bush, 9; Ben Carson,3; Chris Christie, 3 and Carly Fiorina with 1.

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


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