Derry budget holds slight tax hike; cannabis article at Town Meeting

Emmett Dunbar explains the purpose of Article 18, to allow Derry residents to show support for a local cannabis marketplace. Photos by Bruce Frauman.

By Bruce Frauman
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Londonderry Select Board on Monday, Jan. 20, passed a budget for fiscal year 2020/21 that will result in an expected total municipal tax rate of $0.40385 that includes the building reserve fund and all appropriations.

This will result in about a $25 hike in taxes for a house with an assessed valuation of $100,000. Although the Taconic and Green Regional School District has passed a budget, no school tax rate can be established until this or another budget is approved at the T&G annual meeting on Feb. 25 in Dorset.

The Londonderry Select Board also voted to approve the warning for the March 3 Town Meeting as presented. Local farmer Emmett Dunbar then talked about Article 18, which will be presented to voters during Town Meeting.  That article states that the residents of Londonderry “want the opportunity to develop legal cannabis related businesses, and to form a healthy, safe locally based marketplace within Londonderry for cannabis goods and services.”

Dunbar told Board chair Jim Ameden that he wanted this article printed and delivered to everyone’s home for “politics and awareness.”  While 77 people signed the petition to get the article on the ballot, Dunbar said he intends to keep circulating it and expects hundreds of residents to sign it by March 3.

Dunbar said he hopes the town is open to cannabis growing and processing as well as allowing a storefront for retail sales. Board member George Mora said the issue  “warrants broad discussion at Town Meeting.” Mora said more people might be brought to town by these opportunities.

State Rep. Kelly Pajala explains the latest iterations in state cannabis legislation.

State Rep. Kelly Pajala said legislation under consideration by state lawmakers in Montpelier would impose a 16 percent excise tax on cannabis retail sales along with an optional 2 percent local option tax, though the bill is still being crafted and changed.

Ameden said another article would create a reserve fund “to support municipal efforts to prevent and address the effects of the emerald ash borer infestation of ash trees in the community to include all elements of tree removal and disposal.” Town Administrator Shane O’Keefe said the $3,000 requested for such a fund would come from the town’s unrestricted fund balance. Treasurer Tina Labeau said she will remove the $3,000 request from the next town budget.

In another budgetary matter, the board agreed to raise by five hours the position of assistant to the Town Administrator, currently held by Sharon Crossman. This would take her hours to 20 per week, freeing up O’Keefe to also continue as zoning administrator. There had been talk of hiring a separate zoning administrator.

Two issues came up about Londonderry’s participation in a Windham Regional Commission initiative to provide fiber optic broadband service to southeast Vermont. Though the board sent the WRC a letter in October affirming the town’s desire to participate in the process, O’Keefe said another letter was needed, which the board approved.

Select Board member George Mora explains the process to get the town of Londonderry involved in a local Communication Union District.

Mora said the WRC had received a $65,000 grant from the state Department of Public Service to produce a feasibility study on the broadband service, then write a preliminary business plan. The project must be completed within 60 days. She said the first step is a survey that will ask what residents see as their needs for expanded service and how much they are willing to pay. Once available, the town will have until March 17 to complete the survey with a goal of having 30 percent of Londonderry households respond. Mora said it is up to the town to disseminate the survey, either electronically, through the WRC website or via paper copies. She said the WRC recommended a mailing to second homeowners.

Mora said the WRC will form one or two Communication Union Districts in which Valley Net will string fiber optic cable. She said Valley Net has already established such a micro-utility in east-central Vermont. Mora said the CUD cannot raise taxes to provide the service. Instead it raises money through charging for the service and applying for grants. Mora said some towns in the region have already placed participation on the town warning, and if enough pass, a CUD will be formed which other towns can join simply by a vote of the select board.

Forbes said this is a really big issue since good broad band service is vital for the town’s economic development.

The board accepted a low bid of $4,385 from Endyne Inc. of Williston, to test the former septic fields north of the transfer station for per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, known as PFAS. The testing is required by the Department of Environmental Conservation with results due by Feb. 29, O’Keefe said. O’Keefe said this item is not in the town budget for this fiscal year.

On Ameden’s recommendation, the board voted to not impose special weight limits on any roads or bridges. The Agency of Transportation sent a letter saying such special limits would need to be approved by Feb. 10. Ameden said the current system of having truckers call him or Road Foreman Josh Dryden when they need to drive particular roads works pretty well.

Finally, the town of Londonderry and Jared Lindahl and Willoughby Britton agreed to to allow Fisher & Fisher Law Offices to represent both parties as Lindahl and Britton plan to make improvements to a section of Under the Mountain Road.

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