Budget passes easily, surplus hangs up Andover Town Meeting

By Shawn Cunningham
© 2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

More often than not, Town Meeting Day meetings consist of a lot of quick approvals of important business and one or two relatively minor questions that take up the lion’s share of time.

And so it was at Andover on Saturday, Feb. 29 as the Select Board recommended dividing the town’s $39,162 budget surplus in two, with equal portions going to the Bridge and Highway Fund for needed repairs and to the Capital Equipment Fund to save for a new grader in five years or so. Then Cemetery Sexton Hank Mauti raised his hand.

Cemetery Sexton Hank Mauti asked the meeting to take a portion of the town’s surplus and put it toward tree work in the graveyards Telegraph file photo

Mauti told the meeting that the fund for maintaining Andover’s cemeteries was depleted and old dead trees are hanging over the gravestones, many of which are historic.  Out of “respect for the dead,” Mauti asked that the meeting modify the proposal for using the surplus to include some money for the Cemetery Fund. although he said he could not name an exact amount.

Mauti called the conditions of the headstones “an embarrassment for the town.”  Former Select Board member Jean Peters suggested that Mauti approach the board for an increase in the cemetery line item rather than taking it out of the surplus. It was noted that that would have to be in next year’s budget rather than the one being voted at the meeting and Mauti suggested taking some of the surplus now and asking for a line item increase for the future.

Outgoing Select Board member Barry Williams says he strongly disagrees with the amendment to cut a piece off the town surplus for cemetery work. All Photos by Shawn Cunningham

After the defeat of an article to fund  The Collaborative,  the meeting took up a motion to split the surplus along the lines originally discussed, but resident Paul Stumpf asked Mauti if he wanted to amend the motion. At that point Ray Makul moved to put 10 percent of the surplus into the Cemetery Fund and split the remainder between the Roads and Bridges and Capital Equipment funds.

Outgoing Select Board member Barry Williams said he strongly disagreed with the amendment, saying that they should come to the board with a proposal for the work they want to do. “That’s the way it should work and not out of the surplus,” said Williams.

Board chair Chris Plumb and the town’s venerable over head projector explain the proposed surplus split.

“This is a one-time deal,” said Mauti. “Does it make any difference what pile of money you take it out of? What’s the difference, it’s still the taxpayers money.”

After more discussion, Makul withdrew his amendment saying, “I was just thinking – sooner or later we’re all going to be there.”

But Mauti persisted, noting that the cemetery caretakers have to deal with trees that hang over – and can fall on – 200-year-old gravestones. “Gravity never sleeps,” said Mauti. “Have a little respect.” Mauti then moved an amendment to take 5 percent from the surplus for the Cemetery Fund.

Makul called the cemeteries with their old grave stones “… part of the heritage of our town” and spoke in favor of preserving that history.

Maddy Bodin explaining the issues the board had with the work done at East Hill Cemetery.

The turn came when Select Board member Maddy Bodin told the meeting that Mauti had come before the board asking for funds for the East Hill Cemetery, which the board had approved. However, Bodin said, there had been issues with the amount of money spent on cemeteries and asked Mauti if he wanted to have a public discussion about that. Bodin continued that she had no problem with work Mauti is looking to fund. But, she added, the board did have issues with the way the money was spent and she had concerns about a contractor who tripled their rates.

“This is an attempt to make an end-run around the Select Board,” said Bodin, who urged the meeting to vote no on the amendment, which it did. Finally, the original motion was voted and the split between the Bridge and Highway and Capital Equipment funds was approved.

Budget passes, other actions and discussions

oe Fromberger then moved Article 9 for voters to approve the town’s $887,081.75 municipal budget, which had already been discussed. It passed without objection.

Voters also approved Feb. 27, 2021 (the Saturday before Town Meeting Day) for Andover’s next annual meeting.

State Rep. Tom Bock gives a legislative update and fields questions

Before the meeting got fully under way, Moderator Jon Bliss recognized Rep. Tom Bock to speak about the current legislative session, but first Bock announced that the head of Vermont’s Department of Forests Parks & Recreation had announced that the upgrades to Lowell Lake Park will include new parking, but the department would forego overnight lodging for the time being.

Bock also said that he believes that there will be a resolution of the bankruptcy of Springfield Hospital in four to six weeks and that he is “guardedly optimistic” that there will be “a very positive outcome.” Bock also said he studied the commercial cannabis legislation and felt he had to vote no.

Andover resident Gordon Payne questions Bock about a proposal to amend the Vermont Constitution

Andover resident Gordon Payne asked Bock about a proposed constitutional amendment that he said would “water down property rights.” Bock said there are 1,500 bills introduced in the session and he reads the ones that appear to have a chance of going somewhere. Mauti said the legislation is called PR9 and that it allows the state to claim resources on your property.

“Who came up with this ludicrous idea of turning this place into Cuba or Russia?” asked Mauti.

Leo Salazar described PR9 as entitling the state to all the resources of landowner’s property. “That sounds to me even the water that my well gives me would be the state’s,” said Salazar. Bock said he would be looking into it.

Under the final article – which is for business that does not bind the town or town money – forester Jock Harvey explained the problem of the emerald ash borer and the need for the town to begin working to remove trees along rights of way so they won’t fall into roadways. He left a number of pieces of literature for those attending.

Joe Fromberger fields questions about the Green Mountain school district budget

Fromberger, who is Andover’s representative on the board of the Green Mountain Unified School District, explained the budget for the schools and told the meeting that half of the 9 percent increase in the spending plan was due to increases in things like health insurance that were mandated by the state. The remainder, he said, was geared toward attracting as many of the 134 students from Black River High School as possible. The budget includes an estimate of 55 students at $17,000 each.

On a personal level Fromberger said the budget would increase his property tax from$3,200 per year to $3,400 and that he felt he can afford $200 to increase the ability of the district’s children to learn.

Mauti, who served on the Green Mountain High School board before the Act 46 merger, called the budget “suicidal” and said “it’s out of control.”

“All taxpayers can do is come down here and kill this budget so they can sharpen their pencils,” said Mauti.

Deb Moser distributes her homemade doughnuts before the meeting begins

The discussion moved from the budget to Vermont’s education funding system (as it does every year) under which about two thirds of the education taxes collected do not go toward educating children in the school district.  Fromberger said that if  they want to change those laws, the towns have to elect people to the legislature who will do that.

Stumpf said that Andover has fewer voters than Chester and that Bock is going to listen to Chester where “they don’t pay $40,000 per student” in the school. And with that, Bliss encouraged the meeting  to put the discussion on the agenda for next year and asked for a motion to adjourn.

The meeting observed the tradition of naming those who died in the previous year and a potluck lunch was held after adjournment.


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