Voters approve budgets, discuss impending school-board changes
Guilford resident Shirley Squires holds a bouquet of flowers as state Rep. Sara Coffey, D-Guilford, right, applauds during a surprise ceremony at the start of the Annual Town Meeting on March 5 at Guilford Central School.

Voters approve budgets, discuss impending school-board changes

Legislature honors Shirley Squires, 88, for service to town

GUILFORD — Before voters at this year's Annual Town Meeting started wrestling with financial decisions, they took time to do something nice for one of the town's most beloved residents.

The March 5 meeting began with the presentation of a resolution honoring longtime resident Shirley Squires for her many years of volunteer efforts on behalf of townspeople.

After Sara Coffey, the newly elected state representative for Guilford and Vernon, provided a brief update of legislative activities, she surprised the 88-year-old Squires by reading a House Concurrent Resolution honoring her.

Coffey then presented Squires with a bouquet of flowers while the audience gave a standing ovation.

After that, town and school business was dispatched in about three hours, as the 150 voters gathered at Guilford Central School approved town and highway budgets with little discussion.

It was the first year that the town will not vote on a school budget because of the creation of a unified district as mandated by Act 46.

Big-money issues: smooth sailing

Most of the big-money issues were uncontested as voters approved a highway budget of $997,047, which is $28,000 - or 3 percent - more than last year's.

The increase was mostly due to an increase in wages, repair of trucks, culvert expenses, and the need for a grant match to conduct a tree inventory, according to Selectboard member Gordon Little.

Little also noted that there were decreases in expenditures for rental equipment, building maintenance and resurfacing material because of a Vermont Department of Transportation paving grant.

The audience and the Selectboard offered appreciation of the work of the highway crew.

A General Fund budget of $897,532 was passed by unanimous voice vote from the floor with little discussion. That is an increase of $4,857, or less than 1 percent, over last year's General Fund budget.

Voters reject SeVEDS

The most contentious issue of the day was a request from Southeastern Vermont Economic Development (SeVEDS) for $6,363 to support their activities.

Resident John Shaw explained that he had researched the activities and structure of SeVEDS over the past year and he offered his findings.

Shaw said that, based on his research, he believes there is a problem with the organizational structure of SeVEDS that has led to a lack of transparency and accountability of the organization.

“It is impossible to understand which programs their [SeVEDS] money is supporting,” said Shaw, “and I believe there are conflicts of interest with board members of SeVEDS and organizations that receive money.”

SeVEDS works closely with the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation (BDCC). Alex Beck, the workforce and education program manager for BDCC, noted that organizations that BDCC works with benefit from the work of SeVEDS.

SeVEDS spends its funds on community priorities and there are clear lines between the two organizations, said Beck, who went on to describe some of the programs that SeVEDS supports.

Resident Bill Murray said he felt it would be a mistake to cut SeVEDS funding, but he did note that they need to do a better job of explaining what they do.

After a lengthy period of questions and comments and a failed effort to amend the request to $1 per resident, or $2,121, the original article asking for $6,363 was defeated by a 77-55 vote.

Fire department, nonprofits funded

The Guilford Volunteer Fire Department received its requested $230,063 without debate. Fire Chief Jared Bristol noted that the level-funded budget also includes funding to replace a fire truck.

Bristol noted that the department was able to buy a truck without increasing its budget because of the truck fund. He also pointed out that the fire department responded to 250 calls last year, 23 more than the previous year.

Thirteen human services organizations received a total of $15,880 in funding: Windham Regional Commission ($4,951), Guilford Cares ($6,000), Health Care and Rehabilitation Services ($3,000), the Broad Brook Community Center ($5,000), and $3,200 for mowing and maintenance of the Guilford Natural Playscape.

Because of insurance issues, volunteers can no longer mow the playscape area, so all of the mowing must be done by town employees.

School budget, Act 46 discussion, but no vote

Although voters were not able to vote on a school budget because of the creation of a unified district under Act 46, Town School Board Chair Emily Hartz explained that the board will present a budget of $3.1 million to the unified district.

That is an increase of 6.5 percent over last year's, and it represents a per-pupil cost of $18,200, which is $11 under the state cap.

Hartz noted that it is difficult to plan for next year and that hiring new staff will be problematic because of delays in the budget-approval process for the new district.

Once that unified district is created, the town school board will cease to exist after July 1. In addition, all school property will become the property of the new district.

The town will have two voting members on the eight-member unified district board.

Other decisions

Five-year tax exemptions were granted to the Guilford Volunteer Fire Department, the Guilford Fair Association and the Guilford Recreation Club.

The following positions were filled by floor vote: trustee of public funds, Todd Mandell; grand jurors, Mert Garland and Don McLean; library trustees, Sandra Cortes and Richard Wizansky; and cemetery commisioner, Verandah Porche.

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