Select Board discusses fiscal approach to unified school systems

fiscalLUDLOW, Vt. – The Ludlow Select Board deliberated over portions of the town’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget and voted to adopt the Municipal Plan on Monday, Dec. 4, amidst uncertainty and complexities raised by the recent voter approval of a unified school district with Mount Holly.

At present, Ludlow has two active plans: a village plan and a town plan. The new, merged municipal plan has been adopted by the Select Board but still requires the approval of the Village Board of Trustees.

While most of the amendments to the proposed municipal plan were small – syntax or data tweaks – the energy chapter has been rewritten. In 2016, State Act 174 introduced new standards for municipal and regional energy planning. But also promised that, if these standards are met, the resulting plan would be given more clout, described as “substantial deference,” during Section 248 siting procedures. “They invented a term,” said Board member Logan Nicoll, “but they didn’t specifically define what that meant.”

The state’s new energy standards are ambitious, including a “90/50” goal (90 percent of energy from renewable resources by 2050). Jason Rasmussen, director of planning at Southern Windsor County Regional Planning Commission (SWCRPC), has aided Ludlow’s Planning Commission in the chapter rewrite, helping the town navigate the complexity.

As the meeting turned to the discussion of 2019 budget appropriations, a theme emerged that would persist during the much of the evening: what should the town’s fiscal approach be to the upcoming closure of Black River High School and the unified school district with Mount Holly?

Ludlow foots the bill for an assortment of school operating expenses, like library books, sports, and mentoring programs. While Mount Holly benefits from these services, the town doesn’t currently pay for them. Several board members and citizens present expressed frustration at this arrangement, considering it unfair.

The future is also ambiguous for the town’s other school-related expenses, like transportation. In theory, the closing of Black River High School, slated for 2020, should result in a net savings for Ludlow taxpayers. But there are as yet many unanswered questions about how budgeting will work – how expenses will be apportioned between the town and the Two Rivers Supervisory Union (TRSU), which includes the new Ludlow-Mount Holly Unified Union School District (LMHUUSD).

Dramatic distortion of the gym floor at the school is causing a series of headaches, as well. A recent attempt at a repair has been unsuccessful, with portions of the floor continuing to bulge upward – with enough force to force all of the nails out – and other portions sinking into depressions. A proposed plan to have only away games for the season is problematic, too, as finding enough drivers with a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) is proving difficult. To work around this, the town may need to rent a 15-passenger van – which doesn’t require a CDL for operation – in order to transport student athletes to the games.

The Board also discussed highway, police, and recreation department budget planning for 2019, deferred a decision on solid waste rates and scheduled a meeting for Dec. 18 at 6 p.m. regarding a the recruitment process for a municipal manager.

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