ARTICLE 6: Rockingham Annual Budget of $6,354,252
Yes – 435
No – 71
ARTICLE 2: Rockingham School District Budget of $9,697,976.38
Yes – 414
No – 102
ARTICLE 5: BFUHS #27 Budget of $7,310,950
Yes – 414
No – 108
ARTICLE 1: River Valley Technical Center budget of $3,019,676
Yes – 403
No – 92
ARTICLE 5: Authorize cannabis retailers in Town
Yes – 318
No – 181
ROCKINGHAM, Vt. – On Monday, Feb. 28, the Town of Rockingham Information Meeting was held in the Lower Theatre of the Bellows Falls Opera House with roughly 100 voters attending, 60 by Zoom.
L. Ray Massucco moderated, informing residents that the Secretary of State had stated that afternoon Zoom attendees were not eligible to vote and only those in-person could do so.
The School District started the meeting, as it was an even year, and Articles 1 and 11 were voted on unanimously.
James McAuliffe moved to Article 2, asking for $9,697,976.38, a number that was 17.4% lower per pupil than last year. He asked for approval of the budget and to “bear with us” as they sorted through the problems from the business office. Articles 3 through 7 applied a surplus from 2020 to the next five years to offset taxes. Articles 8 and 9 created fund balances for capital investments including roof work at Central and Middle Schools. Superintendent Andy Haas explained some of the received ESSER Funds would be utilized for heating and cooling systems but they must be Covid-related expenditures.
Massucco said Articles 3 through 13 would be voted upon by Australian Ballot on March 1. Article 2, to receive reports of Town Officers, was voted on unanimously.
Municipal Manager Scott Pickup said that Covid had impacted the town in both positive ways, enabling them to receive federal funding, and hurt them in other ways, like operations at the Opera House.
Dennis Harty asked about the budget, wanting to see actual numbers. Chair Peter Golec explained the audit was available in a separate handout, but that they used the numbers from last year.
Rick Cowan moved to Article 5, authorizing cannabis retail and provided a brief overview of Title 7, Section 863. He said Rockingham was one of 40 towns voting this year.
GFC Director Laura Schairbaum said the Cannabis Control Board would prohibit ads appealing to kids, claims on health benefits, and add warning labels. She encouraged Rockingham, if this passed, to establish a local commission, supporting larger buffer zones.
Golec moved to Article 6 on the budget for FY23 of $6,354,252 of which $5,079,889 would be raised by taxes. He also discussed some of the higher numbers based on previous budgets including recycling that was due to increased staff and higher oil and construction costs on the paving projection.
Elijah Zimmer moved on to Article 7 approving $94,603 for social services. Wright called a point of order and said the Ballot showed a different number on the specific amounts for social services than the Warning.
Harty said the voters were approving the sum requested and the Board could by rights allocate this money anywhere. He also said that voting by Australian Ballot, people might vote ‘No’ because of the transposed numbers.
Bonnie North moved to approve Article 8, the Library budget of $431,555, with $379,250 to be raised by taxes. Director Ian Graham said the budget was the same as last year and he thanked the Town offices and Board for working together.
Susan Hammond moved on to Article 9 to approve $75,000 for the acquisition of the railroad station. Development Director Gary Fox said this was a historic opportunity for the Town. He mentioned the Town’s failure to secure Senator Leahy’s earmarks in 2002-2005 because the station was privately owned and not eligible for federal funding. Fox discussed the 5 year Rail Plan that supported transit-oriented development and that Amtrak and Vermont Rail were looking to upgrade passenger stations and platforms, the Vermonter to add a round trip to Montreal, and the Valley Flyer to extend service to White River Junction from New Haven, Conn.
Morse said he would be more comfortable if there was a funder and Fox explained that a private partner was interested. He said in November the State would apply for federal funding on shovel-ready projects and the town needed to show its commitment.
Article 10 asked for $150,000 for a new plow truck. Pickup explained that this was part of the equipment replacement schedule, but due to supply chain issues, it would take 1.5 years for delivery and they wanted to buy it now.
Jamey Berrick suggested the Town look at new lease vehicles and trading in after five years. He said he worked with hundreds of pieces of equipment and found better costs associated with leasing.
Cowan moved on to Article 11 for $22,000 to fund the Meeting House Capital Reserve Fund. He said Rockingham was lucky to have this historic treasure and the Selectboard supported this action.
A discussion was held on the Australian Ballot Articles of 12 and 13. Steve Crofter questioned the legality of voting for the AB vote by Australian Ballot. Golec updated everyone on Act 162 and the revised Act 77 which clarified the question. He said the Board had two choices at their last meeting: to delay the Annual Meeting or vote on Articles 3 through 13 by AB with a special meeting for attendees to vote for future Australian Ballot. The latter was decided.
Susan Brace encouraged residents to vote down the AB, and said this could be the end of Town Meetings.
Deborah Wright suggested the Town and Village consider an Information Meeting held a month earlier than election day, so Articles could be discussed before the ballots were printed.
North agreed that Management should make decisions to foster greater participation.
Berrick said he had lived here for 31 years, but usually missed Town Meetings because he worked out of town. He appreciated the technology available to participate and “weigh in on the future of our community.”
Election results will be announced at the Selectboard’s Organizational Meeting on March 1.