News Briefs
December 16, 2015

News Brief: Lakes Region

By Lani Duke

ARSU committee recommends Act 46 restructure

The Addison-Rutland Supervisory Union’s Act 46 study committee has finalized its report with the recommendation that existing schools become a single supervisory district with a single board and a single budget by July 1, 2017. Voters in Benson, Castleton, Fair Haven, Hubbardton, Orwell, and West Haven will be asked to approve the new district on April 12, when they will elect members of the 18-seat board. All towns must approve the proposal for it to take effect.

Approval would enable the new district to take advantage of temporary tax breaks while not being subject to state spending caps. Although, due to the previous centralization at the supervisory union level, the restructuring won’t result in huge immediate savings, the committee anticipates that staff reductions for IT, maintenance, nursing, and special education, as well as consolidating audits, will save about $300,000 throughout the system over time. That’s not a huge savings in a district that currently runs an annual budget of about $25 million.

Although the district will not see much cost savings, students will receive the benefit of shared resources and staff, including special education and gifted programming. Parents will continue to have access to teachers and principals, and to members of their school board. Each town has at least one school board member, while more populous towns have more: Hubbardton and West Haven each have one; Benson and Orwell, two each; Fair Haven, five, and Castleton, seven. Public forums about the plan have already begun.

Castleton police station moves forward

CASTLETON—Judge Mary Miles Teachout ruled Nov. 25 in favor of continuing work on construction of the Castleton police station, saying, “There is no basis for declaring the vote invalid.” The project had been threatened with derailment as the result of a suit filed by Castleton resident Sandy Mayo Jackson, concerned that the final revote which approved the fire station’s construction was invalid due to an absentee ballot error.

Jackson contended that no revote ballots were sent to the 43 people who had requested absentee ballots for the initial Town Meeting vote. That lack changed the revote polling result, she said, although what was most important was a ruling on whether or not resending the absentee ballots was implied in the law.

According to Judge Teachout, the statute language clearly states application for an absentee ballot covers only a single election unless the request is for a primary election to be followed by a general election. There is no requirement for a town clerk to send absentee ballots for a revote to individuals who had requested absentee ballots for the Town Meeting.

Considering the issue by the numbers, voters narrowly turned down appropriating $300,420 to add a police station to the existing new fire station. A revote held May 12 reversed that decision, 362-345. The Select Board denied a June 15, 153-signature petition calling for a second revote.

On November 13, the Select Board signed a contract with McClure Construction that calls for starting work on the police station immediately.

Unlike the others

FAIR HAVEN—Fair Haven homeowner Lauritz Rasmussen disagrees with his town’s tax assessment, claiming the town cannot assign a value to his property because there is none other like it in Fair Haven, perhaps not another even in all of Vermont. He took his contention to the top court in the state, presenting a 15-minute argument to the court on Dec. 2. Fair Haven town attorney William Bloomer did not appear at the hearing, relying on his argument in a previously filed brief.

Rasmussen’s property contains a primary residence, pool and barn and two tenant houses, according to the brief he filed with the court. Part of the problem is whether Rasmussen has two properties or one. The disputed land lies on South Park Place. Rasmussen purchased two properties which he deeded, insured, and mortgaged separately. He purchased the private residence in 1994, the land containing the two tenant houses in 2005.

A licensed state appraiser that Rasmussen hired valued the commercial property containing the tenant house at $100,000, but the town’s listers assigned it a value of $218,000 before reducing the figure to $153,000 after an appeal. Rasmussen wants the town to assess his residence as one property, the land containing the two as two properties. They are, however, contiguous. Therefore, the town would rather assess them as a single property.

The Supreme Court will announce its decision later.

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