Athens: no to library, yes to school

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ATHENS -- Citing the nation's sour economy, residents chose during Town Meeting to disband the town's public library and its trustees and to investigate a purchase of Athens Elementary School.

About 60 citizens showed up at the school on Tuesday to have their voices heard on the 26 articles at the joint town and town school district meeting.

A handful of citizens said that though a fine feature for the town, it could not shoulder the burden of keeping the library open in these tough economic times. A few others said it would be a shame to close a library that has, as resident Dolly F.H. Stevens said, existed since 1895.

Before suggesting disbandment, Sandi Capponcelli stood up and detailed her admiration of Vermont libraries. She said that when she was growing up, she would ride her bicycle three miles to the nearest library. She added, however, that with grant money being as low as it is, keeping open the one in Athens is unreasonable. She said she spoke with people at Grafton Public Library and learned that the annual cost to maintain operation is $60,000.

Another woman asked if the town could temporarily suspend its vote, but Athens Selectboard Chairman Mike Bates said that was not possible.

Stevens, a passionate advocate for the library, said it has allowed locals to borrow books for 117 years and that she has written 400 letters asking for help to keep it open. A gentleman stood up to say he saw no reason to close the library before seven individuals requested vote go to a paper ballot, with a result of a 25-to-14 vote in favor of disbanding the library due to a result of a lack of funding, circulation, participation and purchase of new volumes.

Following the meeting, Stevens said she has given up the fight for the public library but she said roughly 10 percent of the people who have donated books to her have encouraged her to start her own private one. She has about 4,000 donated books, which are currently sitting in the Athens Elementary School.

Earlier in the meeting, voters chose to negotiate purchasing the school's building and property -- as long as the price is right. The town is considering the purchase of the building, into which it would move the town offices. There also could be room for a library, if voters change their minds about having a library in Athens.

Two carefully worded amendments made sure that taxpayers would not be blindsided with an unexpected bill for the school sometime in the future.

The article in the Town Warning originally read, "Shall the Town vote to purchase the Athens Elementary School building and property for the sum of $255,000 with the understanding of a bank loan of note than 10 years to pay back the capital investment."

A woman in the audience requested an amendment to the wording to say the town would pay a sum not to exceed $255,000. The purpose of the amendment, which passed via voice vote, was to allow the town more flexibility in dealing with future circumstances.

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Another woman in the back of the room requested a separate amendment that would ensure the town pay only market value or an amount not to exceed $255,000, whichever is less.

Donald Capponcelli stood up to voice his opposition to the amendment and moderator Stephen Fine informed the crowd that the Athens School Board, and not the town, legally owns the building.

The amendment went to paper ballot and passed, 33 to 10.

Before voters approved $369,050 to cover the town's expenses, Stevens asked why, according to the Selectboard's report, more than $7,000 had been spent on heating oil for the town's garage. Bates explained that the garage is filled end to end with equipment that must be taken care of. The motion went to paper ballot and passed 46 to 12.

Voters failed to approve the Athens/Grafton Joint Contract budget K-6 expenses of $1,390,740 -- which includes $500 compensation for each school director. The motion was struck down, 28 to 19, in paper ballot.

Immediately after announcing the results, Fine said Grafton voters approved the budget and when the two vote counts were combined, the yeses outweighed the no votes.

A member of the Windham Northeast Supervisory Union, Athens voted 22 to 18 against Union High School District No. 27 Article 7, which sought to appropriate $7,031,276 for the maintenance of the school for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2012, and ending on June 30, 2013.

Locals adopted the River Valley Technical Center School District Article 1, 21 to 18, to defray current expenses for the ensuing fiscal year and to pay off outstanding orders and obligations.

Darlene Wyman, Town Clerk and Treasurer; Tom Taylor, Selectman; Richard McCarrick, Lister; Lois Sippel, Auditor and Meetinghouse Committee; David Bemis, Meetinghouse Committee; Amanda Alsvig, trustee; Donald Capponcelli, Cemetery Commission; Stephen Oakes, Constable; Elizabeth Agostini, Collector of Delinquent Taxes; Stephen Fine, Town Grand Juror and Town Agent.

President Barack Obama won the Democratic presidential primary with 10 votes. Rick Santorum was the top Republican, with 10.

Domenic Poli can be reached at dpoli@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277.


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