Derry voters to weigh local options tax Board tackles 2020-21 budgeting before Town Meeting

Londonderry Board chair Jim Ameden proposes weighing trash at the Transfer Station. All photos by Bruce Frauman.

By Bruce Frauman
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Londonderry Select Board at its meeting on Monday, Jan. 6 voted to place on the March 3 Town Meeting warning an article for the town to vote on a 1 percent local options tax on sales, rooms, meals and alcohol, in an attempt to reduce the municipal tax rate.

At a previous meeting, Town Treasurer Tina Labeau estimated that this could raise about $110,000 per year, not including the tax on alcohol.

For more than an hour, the board discussed the proposed municipal budget for 2020-2021, which starts on July 1. Initially Labeau said the town needs to raise about $1.6 million in taxes, which is about a 7 percent increase. Over the course of the discussion, this was reduced by about $77,000.

Labeau said a large revenue increase of $235,000 would come from two grants for culvert work on Derry Woods Road, which is expected to cost $321,061. The town is required to match with two grants with a total of $29,500, Labeau said. And the town will kick in the remaining $56,561 to get the work done.

The proposed $22,000 for town office repairs and maintenance was reduced to $5,000 since there are no big projects expected this year.

The proposed $95,000 increase at the Transfer Station to $225,000 — a best guess by Solid Waste Coordinator Esther Fishman — came from contracted hauling fees. Instead, Board chair Jim Ameden proposed an increase to $175,000 from the current $130,000. Ameden also proposed that the Transfer Station take trash based on weight. The transfer station pays by weight for disposal, but charges by bag and volume of solid waste. He added that construction and demolition refuse is where the town loses the most money.

O’Keefe said he will look into options and prices for a drive on and off scale. One option discussed is to weigh trucks bringing in C&D material and retain the punch card system for residential solid waste. The board was receptive to Board member Bob Forbes’ idea to come up with a fee to charge other towns for the time Labeau spends on managing the expenses.

Parks Board member Kelly Pajala said a lawn mower could be paid for with Town Park funds.

One increase the board could not alter is the raise from $2,000 to $5,000 for the New England Municipal Resource Center which provides software and other supports to town governments in the region. NEMRC will also charge $10,000 for a field inspector for the full audit that takes place every three years.

Another $10,000 increase is for outside services for lawn mowing and maintenance in the Town Parks budget. This is for a lawn mower that Parks Board member Kelly Pajala said could be paid for with Town Park funds.

As Road Commissioner, Ameden said the budget for calcium chloride doubled from $6,000 to $12,000.  Calcium chloride is used for de-icing as well as to prevent sand from washing off and dust from forming on dirt roads. The summer highway equipment purchase line also doubled: from $20,000 to $40,000. Ameden said a new truck is needed to replace the Ford 550, which, he said, is “hanging on by a thread.” Ameden suggested that the town purchase a Ford 250 pickup with a plow to clean up intersections and other smaller jobs.  The debt service on the new salt and sand shed is $31,987 for fiscal 2021 and was $31,360 in fiscal 2020. It was $30,745 in fiscal 2019.

Board member George Mora clarified the $3,000 to tackle ash tree removal due to damage from the emerald ash borer beetle, saying that she thought $1,500 was for use this fiscal year, with $1,500 set for a reserve fund. Mora also said the estimate of the number of trees to be removed is down to 400 from an original estimate of 1,500. Ameden wondered whether cut ash trees can be sent to mills now that the beetle has been found in Londonderry.

Finally, the board agreed to Ameden’s suggestion that the budget for the State Police patrol be decreased to $5,000 from $15,000. That will also go before the voters in March.

Board member George Mora questioned the allocation for ash tree removal and clarified the number of trees that had to be culled.

The board agreed to enter into an agreement with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation to conduct a water/wastewater engineering study. O’Keefe said the town will not be under any financial obligation until it decides to go ahead with a construction project.

There was some discussion but no decision on O’Keefe’s proposal to split the town administrator and zoning administrator positions. Ameden thought the assistant town administrator position could be eliminated if the burden on the town administrator is lessened.  O’Keefe will come up with more options for the next meeting.

O’Keefe said that Sandra Clark and the other listers have done a “great job” based on the results of the 2019 equalization study conducted by the state Department of Taxes. The results showed that the town’s Common Level of Appraisal is 99.39 percent showing that the grand list is very close to the actual market value.

O’Keefe also said a suit has been filed against the town by Emanuel Contos because he believes he was not properly informed about a tax sale of his property.

The board decided to put on the March 3 ballot a proposal to make the position of collector of delinquent taxes an appointed position instead of an elected one and turn it over to the Town Clerk’s office. Labeau said most of the work is done by her and Town Clerk Kelly Pajala anyway.

Pajala said the deadline for petitions for articles to be added to the town meeting warning is Thursday, Jan. 16. The board will vote on the final wording for the warning on Monday, Jan. 20. Pajala said she will conduct a training for election officials especially for the Presidential Primary election and the school vote.

Pajala also said that those wishing to vote early or by absentee ballot in the presidential primary must fill out a form and ask for either the Democratic or Republican ballot. In Vermont, voters don’t have to be registered with either party to vote in a specific primary.

Pajala said that 2020 Transfer Station stickers and dog licenses are available.

Several upcoming meetings were noted:

  • O’Keefe said the Planning Commission will be meeting on Monday, Jan. 13 with a consultant on rewriting the zoning regulations.
  • Treasurer Tina Labeau said that Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies wants to do a presentation to the town on Thursday, Feb. 13, time to be determined.
  • The board agreed to hold candidates’ night on beginning at 6 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 17 prior to the Select Board meeting.
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