By Lani Duke
On second thought . . . Act 46 vote
ORWELL—When Orwell voters turned down the Act 46 consolidation of Addison-Rutland Supervisory Union with a decisive vote of 211 to 121, that rejection disallowed the entire plan for all the schools involved. Orwell voters chose to reject the consolidation plan out of the fear that it would lead to closing the Orwell Village School.
If all the voting towns—Benson, Castleton, Fair Haven, Hubbardton, Orwell, and West Haven—had approved, their individual town-oriented school boards would have merged into one with five elementary schools and Fair Haven Union High under one 18-member school board.
Orwell Town Clerk Betty Walker said at least 49 legal voters have signed the petition; by law, a petition to reconsider a ballot requires signatures from a minimum of 5 percent of a town’s legal voters to be valid. In Orwell, that’s 43 signatures.
Orwell’s School Board will most likely set the date for a reconsideration vote during its May 16 meeting, according to ARSU Superintendent Ron Ryan. He said to expect the date for the vote to be during the month of June.
Propelling the urgency to ballot is Act 46’s promise of the highest tax incentives only if voters approve consolidation by July 1. Voter approval must be more than a simple majority; votes for approval must be more than the two-thirds that cast against the merger in the original vote.
Orwell School Board Member Alyson Eastman, chair of the ARSU Act 46 study committee and Independent Representative to the state legislature, said that gaining voter approval may mean having “our work cut out for us,” but doing so would dispel voter misinformation about consolidation. She fears that Orwell will lose what influence it might otherwise wield if it does not establish its position while new districts are being established. The state plans to assume control in 2018, with power to decide where unmerged districts will be reassigned, without any influence on new district governance.
If Orwell continues to reject a voluntary merger, it may lose as much as an annual $100,000 in small schools grants. That loss alone, assuming no budget cuts, would raise the property tax rate about five cents, said ARSU Business Manager Laura Jakubowski.
Benson passes school budget
BENSON—Voters approved their $1,625,420 Village School budget in a 49 to 30 vote May 10. It was a second try for a budget that originally had been set at $1.76 million and rejected 159 to 133 on Town Meeting Day. School administrators were able to remove some $120,000 of special education costs freed up with students moving out of the district. The new budget is actually $940 lower than the current year’s spending. The budget’s per-pupil costs are an estimated $14,209. Addison Rutland Supervisory Union Business Manager Linda Jakubowski projects a tax rate of $1.42 next year.
Castleton election site moving
CASTLETON—The Castleton Board of Civil Authority voted to move future elections to the recently completed Castleton Fire Station, 273 VT Route 30 North, including the August 9, 2016, and November 8, 2016, elections. In the discussion held before the BCA’s May 2 vote, Acting Chair Deborah Rosmus stated she had frequently been asked why Castleton elections were being held at the American Legion, although the fire station was built to be used by the town.
Castleton Volunteer Fire Department Chief Heath Goyette listed several concerns about holding elections at the new fire station. Building plans changed during construction, resulting in the meeting room being smaller than that in the original design. Parking and traffic both present complications, too. No one may park in front of the overhead doors for fear of blocking the fire trucks.
There are 35 parking places at the fire station, compared to 55 at the American Legion, Richard Combs noted. More parking will be available next door when the new town office is built. One or two officers may be needed to help direct traffic and guide parking. A “No Parking” sign will be needed to stop people from entering the medical center parking lot and a combination of traffic cones and no parking signs should keep drivers from parking in front of the overhead doors.
The Board of Civil Authority participants praised the generosity of the American Legion in letting the town use the Post without charge. Each Tuesday election has cut into the Legion’s income, because Tuesday would otherwise be a bingo night.
Deciding that the seeming obstacles could be overcome, the BCA approved switching the town election site to the fire station and sending a formal letter of thanks to the American Legion.
Good fishing ahead for locals
The Vermont Fish & Wildlife Department has been stocking local fishing areas, placing 768,500 trout and salmon across the state. Nearly 20,000 of them will be trophy size; nearly 300,000 more will be catchable size.
Among the local fishing spots being blessed with the trophy-size fish is Black Pond in Hubbardton. Local waters will receive more than trout alone. Yearling landlocked Atlantic salmon, steelhead rainbows, and brook, brown, rainbow, and lake trout are also being stocked.