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Incumbents return in Brattleboro, while corporate personhood measure wins big

Wilmington OKs local option tax, Halifax dodges bond debt, Athens buys school for new town office

With additional reporting from Commons reporter Joyce Marcel and Commons News Editor Randolph T. Holhut.

—The Brattleboro Selectboard remains unchanged after Tuesday’s election with voters re-electing all the incumbents.According to Town Clerk Annette Cappy, of the 8,310 registered voters, 1,829 cast ballots. Cappy said this number represented a 22 percent voter turnout, which was lightly higher than last year’s 18 percent.In the only contested Selectboard race, incumbent David Gartenstein won a three-year seat with 1,109 votes, with challenger Kathryn Turnas II garnering 511 votes. Incumbent Christopher Chapman won a second 1-year term with 1285 votes. Current board chair Dick DeGray came in second with 1093 votes. Former challenger William Morlock, who withdrew from the race a few weeks prior, received 436 votes.Kurt Daims lost his bids for First Constable and Town Grand Juror, receiving less than 500 votes in each category. Brattleboro voters awarded the First Constable position to Steven R. Rowell and Town Grand Juror to Richard H. Cooke.In presidential primary voting, President Obama received 932 votes in the Democratic Primary. The six Republican hopefuls walked away with a combined total of 679 votes. Mitt Romney topped the list with 270 votes followed by Rick Santorum (177), Ron Paul (164), Newt Gingrich (45) and former candidates Jon Huntsman (17) and Rick Perry (6).According to Cappy, the evening’s results were still unofficial and did not include write-in candidates. She did not anticipate the write-ins would total enough to alter results.The 22 percent voter turnout fell below the grass-roots group Double the Voter’s goal to double voter turnout this year.“Although we fell short of our goal, it was most certainly growth, which is all the more impressive given that only one of the three Selectboard elections was contested,” said the group’s leader, Selectboard member Ken Schneck. “It would be great to do an analysis of why people turned out and if new voters came out for the first time. I had a blast at the polls for the few hours I worked. Even something so small as having parents fill out ballots but encouraging them to give their under-voting-age children the task of feeding the ballots through the machine really lit up faces, both parents and children alike.”

Dealing with Irene in Halifax

—Residents and town officials expected to discuss a 10- to 20-year bond at Halifax’s annual Town Meeting, March 6. Instead, the Selectboard announced the town will weather Tropical Storm Irene-related expenses better than expected.Irene’s flood waters stampeded through Halifax on Aug. 28. The waters wreaked a then-estimated $6 million in damages to roads and municipal property — a head-spinning number for a town with a combined municipal and highway budget of $900,000, said retiring Selectboard Chair John LaFlamme.“Irene put Halifax on the map, but it wiped a little bit [of the town] away,” he said.LaFlamme informed voters at Town Meeting that Halifax can avoid a long-term bond thanks to the state’s decision to hold towns liable for only the equivalent of a 3-cent tax increase. The 3-cent equivalent to date totals just under $38,000, he said. “It’s a substantial savings to a small community like Halifax.”According to LaFlamme, that money would only cover projects approved by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The state’s 3-cent tax plan, however, does not cover all of Halifax’s rebuilding costs.LaFlamme said the initial damage estimates of $6 million to $7 million were high, but that the actual spending still exceeds the town’s revenues. Halifax has spent $2.4 million to date to repair roads and bridges damaged by Irene. The town anticipates needing to spend an additional $1.4 million. This will bring Irene’s damage total to $3.8 million, he said.Halifax has kept costs down by remaining diligent with its purchases and dealing with flood scenarios creatively.According to LaFlamme, rebuilding funds will come through a $2 million line of credit of which the town has used $1.1 million. The bank may extend the loan’s term or amount depending on the final total from state and FEMA reimbursements. The bank loan carries a lower interest rate than any long-term bonds, he said. It’s one positive side of the bad economy.In his opinion, avoiding taking on a 10 to 20 year bond, and the debt that goes with it, is a blessing. “[The debt] would have been detrimental to 10 years of town budgets,” he said. “Dealing with Irene was easier than dealing with the politics of Irene. That has been confusing as heck.”Balancing repairing the town while coloring within regulatory lines proved tricky at times, said the six-year board veteran of his third FEMA disaster.Halifax voters unanimously agreed to sent the state a thank you letter for agreeing to the 3-cent tax equivalent.Overall it was a smooth day, said LaFlamme of Town Meeting. Voters spent the most time debating Article 11: a $10,000 budget for the town constable. The final vote decided an $2,000 for an uncertified constable or a $10,000 budget if the constable is certified or in the process of obtaining certification.LaFlamme said the town plans to have all roads and bridges repaired this summer. On a personal note, LaFlamme said leaving the Selectboard after six years tears at him.“As a self-employed carpenter and contractor, I needed to focus more on my family and finances,” he said about his decision to step down. LaFlamme has also served as a Halifax volunteer firefighter for 15 years. “But, you get very involved with being on the board because you care,” he said.LaFlamme jokes about weening himself off serving as a board member by attending board meetings as an audience member.Voters gave LaFlamme a standing ovation at Town Meeting. “Which I intend to brag about until no one wants to hear about it anymore,” he said adding I will miss serving my community as a board member.

New revenue for Wilmington

—Voters in Wilmington approved a new 1 percent option tax, 106 to 77. The tax will cover taxable sales on rooms, meals, retail, and alcoholic beverages. The 1 percent option tax will not apply to any items or services not currently taxed. Other exempt items and services include medical drugs for human use, newspapers, food, food stamps, clothing and shoes, sales of electricity, oil, gas other fuels for residential use.At the town’s Feb. 15 Selectboard meeting, board members discussed using the tax monies for Long-term Community Recovery (LTCR) projects not funded by other sources.Wilmington engaged FEMA’s formal LTCR program with the goal of rebuilding after Tropical Storm Irene.The state manages the option tax. It collects the monies along with the town’s other retail, meal, or rooms taxes. The town’s net share is then returned minus an administration fee of 30 percent. The town receives the remaining 70 percent quarterly.Dover already has a 1 percent option tax. The town uses the monies generated by the tax to fund economic development projects. All 10 articles on Wilmington’s town meeting warning passed. Due to a glitch in the warning, explained Selectboard member and Town Clerk Susan Haughwout, Articles 4 and 5 needed to be amended during the meeting.According to Haughwout, the warning read that the town would raise and appropriate over $2 million for the General Fund and over $1.2 million for the Town Road budget. The correct totals, she said, were less, at $1,678,993 and $1,150,020 respectively.The voters also approved adding an additional $90,000 to budget line 242 of the General Fund for possible matching grants and economic development projects, said Haughwout.

Around the towns

—In other Town Meeting news from around the county:• Brattleboro, Marlboro and Putney voters all approved measures that would deny personhood status to corporations, and give Congress and the states the right to regulate corporations and set limits on political contributions. In Brattleboro, the measure passed by a 1,401-181 margin.• Newfane voters took up the corporate personhood measure from the floor and approved it on a voice vote. They also approved giving the town clerk and town treasurer pay raises, and passed a $1.1 million town budget.• Voters in Athens approved disbanding its library committee, while giving the okay for a $225,000 bond so the town can buy Athens Elementary School, which has been vacant since the town merged their elementary program with Grafton eight years ago, to use for a new town office.• Dummerston approved a $3.14 million school budget, an increase of 3.74 percent. A new roof for the older portion of Dummerston School, and a new gym floor, accounted for some of the increase. Voters also approved a general budget of nearly $472,000.• Windham voters rejected a measure to appropriate $40,000 for the town’s reappraisal fund, opting instead to spend $20,000.• Voters in Guilford approved a nearly 10 percent increase in its general budget, while signing off on a $2,77,945 school budget.• Rockingham approved a $4.9 million town budget on Monday night. In the only contested race on the ballot on Tuesday, Josh Hearne defeated Lamont Barrett for a three-year seat on the Selectboard. Voters also approved the $9.85 million town school budget by a 456-399 margin, and the $7.03 million union high school budget by a 448-406 margin.• After serving as Londonderry’s Town Clerk for 47 years, James Twichell was defeated by newcomer Kelly Pajala, 87-72. Pajala, who has lived in Londonderry for the past seven years, has served as assistant Town Clerk in Weston for more than two years.• Vernon voters on Monday night approved a nearly $228,000 capital budget, which will allow the police department to get a third cruiser, and buy a new emergency generator for the elementary achool.• On Saturday, Westminster approved a $4.65 million school budget and a nearly $1.9 million town budget. Both were level-funded.This year, Brattleboro Community Television recorded Town Meeting proceedings in Dummerston, Guilford, Jamaica, Newfane, Putney, Townshend, and Vernon. They will be shown on Channel 10 in the coming days, see www.brattleborotv.org for the schedule.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #142 (Wednesday, March 7, 2012).

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