Andover Town Meeting addresses status as education tax ‘sending town’

Dakin and Bargfrede

Rep. Leigh Dakin, right chats with Town Clerk Linda Bargfrede and Assistant Town Clerk Paul Disney at Saturday’s Andover Town Meeting. Photos by Shawn Cunningham. Click any photo to launch gallery

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The single longest discussion at Saturday’s Andover Town Meeting was for an article funding early education to the tune of $21,077. But it wasn’t the amount of the article that was at issue, but education funding in general.

Gordon Payne rose to ask several questions about the article, but also about how the town could be paying $1.8 million for educating 38 students. He asked how the school report could claim that the system was spending $14,000 per student when it looks more like $46,700 per student in taxes.

Payne told the 60 Andover residents assembled at Town Hall that he is a lawyer who has been studying the Constitution and questions whether funding education with the property tax is constitutional.

“We’ve been having this discussion for 15 or 16 years,” said resident Paul Stumpf, adding that the $1.8 million is not the cost of educating the children in the local schools but rather what the state requires Andover to send to the education fund.

Gordon Payne

Paul Stumpf raises his hand to speak as Gordon Payne questions school taxes

Town School board member Joe Fromberger agreed, noting that the “basic dichotomy is that Andover is property rich and child poor.” “You will raise $1.7 million and send it off to the state education fund and the fund sends back what we spend at Chester-Andover (Elementary) and Green Mountain (Union High),” said Fromberger.

“We send a wheelbarrow load of money to Montpelier each year,” said Green Mountain school board member Hank Mauti, “and we get a teacup back.”

“We are partly to blame,” said Town Clerk Linda Bargfrede, adding that at two recent budget meetings she was the only person from the town who attended with the exception of the Andover representatives on the board.

Frances Salazar said that attending those meetings would not make a difference in the state education tax and that the way to get Montpelier’s attention is to vote down the school budget. “It’s our money and we need to protect it,” said Salazar.

Between the school district meeting and the town meeting, state Rep. Leigh Dakin spoke to the issues of education funding and school district consolidation.

Hank Mauti

School board member Hank Mauti addresses the meeting

“When I came here 40 years ago, we voted school budgets from the floor and the meetings were well-attended,” said Dakin. “Now the budgets are voted by Australian ballot and the meetings are just informational. We merged school districts a few years ago with the understanding that it would save money.”

Dakin said she voted against Act 46 – the school consolidation law that many schools are currently working toward. “There were way too many questions about how it would function that were not answered.” Referring to the meetings  being conducted to study a further merger, Dakin said that people need to go to those meetings. “It’s hard going to evening meetings, but it’s important.”

Two Rivers Supervisory Union Superintendent Bruce Williams, who is leaving office this summer, said that there will be more informational meetings about school consolidation. Answering the question of how much money the merger that created TRSU has saved, Williams said it was $300,000 per year from cutting five and a half jobs.

Addressing Dakin, Salazar asked, “How can you represent us in education when voters in the receiving towns are happy with their budgets?”

“I represent 4,300 voices,” Dakin said, before urging those in the crowd to contact her with their thoughts and issues.


School board member Joe Fromberger answers one of number of education spending related questions

“A no vote once in a while might help,” said Mauti. “I don’t know if you’re truly representing us or playing with them up there.” He went on to ask if she voted for the recently passed budget and if she would vote to legalize pot. That bill just passed the state Senate.

Dakin said that the budget has not yet been voted on, then added that she would vote against legalization of marijuana for several reasons, including the health effects of marijuana use and her sense that the state is not prepared to manage it.

Dave Peters asked Dakin if the rumor were true that the state was considering imposing a carbon tax of 88 cents per gallon on home heating oil and 50 cents per gallon on propane.

Dakin replied that she hasn’t heard any direct discussion of this. “I don’t think anything is happening this year.”

“Because this is an election year,” said Peters.

Select Board member Jean Peters, sitting in for board chair Red Johnson, said that the board proposed using half of last year’s surplus to reduce taxes and the other half  for the highway and bridge fund for upcoming projects, including a summer culvert project.

Peters and members of the board also said that the High Bridge on the Weston-Andover Road just west of Horsehoe Acres Campground is badly deteriorated and will need work soon. The problem is that it’s low on the state’s list of bridge project priorities and if Andover was to make interim repairs it would put the bridge even lower on the list. 

Jean Peters

Select board member Jean Peters takes the audience through an explanation of the town’s budget and designated funds

Peters also answered questions about budget choices including level funding fuel lines even though prices have dropped since last year. “The Saudis are cutting back on production and the Middle East is on fire,” said Peters, “so it seemed reasonable to keep the numbers where they are.”

There were also lighter moments. When Ron Theissen was nominated for a one-year term as a town auditor he told the gathering that he believes strongly in term limits and would welcome the nomination of anyone else to the post. Sherry Wilumitis immediately seconded Theissen’s nomination saying, “Nice try Ron.”

“There are term limits for these offices,” Bargfrede told the gathering. “That’s death.” The crowd erupted in laughter.

Town officials nominated and elected without opposition:

Moderator – Jon Bliss
Select Board 3-year term – Barry Williams
Select Board 1-year term –  Red Johnson
Select Board 1-year term – Chris Plumb
Lister – Leo Salazar
Tax Collector – Linda Bargfrede
Auditor – Ron Theissen
Constable – Alan Peters
Agent to Prosecute and Defend Suits – Jon Bliss
Sexton – Andrew Hill
Cemetery Commission – Hank Mauti

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  1. susan leader says:

    Nice reporting on Andover Town Meeting, and I enjoyed the photos as well. You captured accurately the gravitas as well as the humor of the occasion. Hopefully the many Andover residents who did not attend will not want to miss next year! Thank you for making the trip out to Andover,

    Susan Leader