Rockingham residents votes to add $119,500 for public works director

BELLOWS FALLS, Vt. – Roughly 130 voters were at the Rockingham annual meeting Monday, March 2.

The Rockingham Town School District asked the voters to approve a budget of $10,888,771.78, which would result in $19,621.46 per equalized pupil spending. The Rockingham School Board answered questions about needed improvements and the increase in per pupil cost – 12.64% higher than current year spending.

Paul Ries moved to give only half of the fund balance of $50,000 for improvements and suggested closing one of the schools. He reminded residents that the high school was built for 720 students, and the School Board said currently there are 306. The motion was defeated.

Rick Cowan of Cambridgeport said, “[It’s] eight times the rate of inflation. Help us understand that.”

Board member Rick Holloway explained the per equalized pupil number is calculated by the state. Articles 1-3, and 5 for the Rockingham Town School District were passed during the meeting.

Article 5 for the Rockingham Town Meeting proposed a budget of $6,208,639 with $5,003,444 to be raised by taxes.

Ann DiBernardo moved to amend the budget, adding $119,500 to reinstate the public works director position. DiBernardo said, “I think it is a mistake to cut this position.”

Amy Howlett agreed, saying it is a “false economy to lose the [public works director] with the depth of experience and the credentials,” acknowledging Everett Hammond’s valuable engineering experience.

Moderator L. Raymond Massucco explained that the citizens should understand the “Selectboard has the discretion to spend or not to spend” and choose where the additional money is spent.

David Lambert recollected that from 2010 through 2018 it was his perception that “the roads suffered” without a public works director. He also suggested the school’s budgeted $1.6 million paving project could be done by the town if they had an engineer. He asked the Selectboard for the rationale on removing the position.

Vice Chair Gaetano Putignano said, “We spent a long time on this budget,” going line by line to get it down. He added, “I believe [Hammond’s] services are invaluable, [but] funding led my decision and I voted in favor of removing the position.”

Putignano explained there were no upcoming projects that needed engineer services and paving grants were not eligible until 2024.

MaryAnn Bennett said it seemed short-sighted of the board and reminded them that if the town had a big project next year, someone would need to be hired.

Municipal Manager Wendy Harrison had compared staffing with neighboring towns and agreed there were “no requirements that the [public works director] be an engineer.” However, she said, Hammond provided the town good value for his engineering services.

Village President Deborah Wright reminded residents there was no guarantee the Selectboard would use the money to reinstate the position.

Board member Susan Hammond said that it was not a unanimous vote, passing 3-2.

The vote then passed on the floor, 79-49, to add the $119,500 back into the budget.

Ann DiBernardo moved to make Development Director Gary Fox’s position full-time, which would add $30,000, and Wright requested a paper ballot. The motion was defeated 66-48.

Other articles that passed were $3,000 for Restorative Community Justice, $5,000 for the Community Bike Project, $22,000 to fund Rockingham Meetinghouse improvements, $12,500 for environmental surveys and appraisals of the train station, and $12,500 for the Rockingham’s Volunteer Fire Department turnout gear.

Articles 11 and 12 for the meetinghouse repairs added $22,000 in taxes and $42,000 from the reserve fund. Fox explained the estimated cost would be $100,000-180,000 for plaster ceiling repair, and that the $62,000 would repair the lower level.

Article 13 requested $12,500 for environmental surveys and appraisals for the train station, and Wright said this building is not town owned nor “appropriate to add to the budget.” She agreed that “the building should be saved,” but the current owners should take care of it.

Laurel Green said it was clear from the community forums that “tourism is an important potential for income” and said, “A decent train station… makes good sense to me.”

Fox explained the intent of the article was Rockingham’s eventual purchase of the building using federal grant funds, and providing commercial appraisals and environmental surveys would offer liability protection for contamination. The goal was a partnership for a private business owner to contribute funds and increase economic activity for the town.

The final budget totaled $6,328,139 with $5,122,944 to be raised by taxes.

Declaration of other business started with Lambert, who said, “It is the intent of the assembly that the public works director be retained.”

Barbara Ternes commended the Selectboard and Trustees “for hiring Wendy Harrison. She is professional, hard-working, and dedicated.” Harrison then received flowers and applause.

Howlett thanked both boards for inviting the Vermont Council for Rural Development and said, “I feel so proud of this community.”

Earlier, Massucco had reminded residents of what Michael Harty used to say, “We arrived as neighbors and friends, and we will all leave as such.” At 11 p.m., Rockingham residents did just that.

On Tuesday, March 3, 1,001 total votes were tallied for the Rockingham School District budget articles. The school budget passed with a 619-381 vote; District 27 budget of $7.2 million passed 663-338; and River Valley Technical Center budget passed, 753-237.

Susan Hammond won the three-year term for the town of Rockingham Selectboard with 546 votes followed by Ben Masure with 437 and Stefan Golec with 232.

Ben Masure won the one-year term Selectboard seat with 687 votes, followed by Stefan Golec’s 513 votes, and Michelle Ohayon’s 481 votes.

L. Raymond Massucco will continue as both town and school moderator and town agent, as will lister Paul Noble. The Trustees for the Public Library were Mary Shepard with 820 votes, Brady Weinstock at 576, and Duane Whitehead with 568 votes.

The school directors for three-year term were Brenda Farkas with 681 votes and Deborah Wright with 630 votes.

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