Selectboard approves budget and warrant articles for Town Meeting

SPRINGFIELD, Vt. – The Springfield Selectboard held its regular meeting Monday, Jan. 20 and approved a fiscal year 2021 budget of $12,612,404 for town salaries, incidental and necessary town expenses including highways, which the voters will be asked to approve at the Town Meeting in March. This amount is a $336,724 increase from last year or 3.48%.

In two corresponding articles, voters will be asked to approve the School Board to spend $32,654,523, an amount necessary for the subsequent fiscal year and to approve spending $125,333 – to be used in conjunction with $199,478 in federal grant money – for the establishment of two full-day, full-year pre-kindergarten classrooms. If approved, these combined articles will result in total education spending of $19,302 per pupil, an amount which is 4.65% higher than the current year.

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A previous article for consideration was the appropriation of $700,000 for repaving, road construction, gravel road improvements, and ancillary professional services for specific projects specified in the Road Surface Management System Report from 2015. This article included the language “…or other duly warranted sidewalk improvements,” which was debated at length and segued into a discussion about whether to keep sidewalk repair in that line item or have it stand alone in its own article.

Everett Hammond of Lincoln Street said he supported the paving article but asked what roads have had capital improvements, which roads were chip sealed – a process that didn’t hold up well – and then gave the board an extensive list of questions regarding this and three other articles. After discussion, the board unanimously passed the $700,000 paving article.

An article to appropriate $100,000 specifically for the reconstruction of sidewalks followed and addressed the underlying issue that came up in the paving discussion. A motion was made to approve but was withdrawn. Vice Chair Walter Martone said it wasn’t enough to just appropriate the money for sidewalks; there should be a capital plan established for that money that will assess priorities and the voters should weigh in. Board member Peter MacGillivray said although the planning would fall on the Public Works Department, the Energy and Trails committees might want to lobby for more walkable sidewalks. Char Osterlund said the article ties in well with the Town Plan and the Energy Committee.

Resident Richard Andrews said he supported the appropriation because there is a population that relies on sidewalks as transportation, and although they do not own cars, they pay taxes and have been underserved. He agreed with Martone and said the plan could be spread out over a few years.

Town Manager Tom Yennerell suggested the board add the planning language into the article because it could be a significant cost that he estimated to be between $20,000-$25,000. Public Works Director Jeff Strong agreed and said outside expertise would be needed.

Chair Kristi Morris said he supported putting seed money into this budget but said the board has to answer to the voters and this appropriation could represent a $0.01 to $0.015 increase in the tax rate. He said maintenance on buildings, sidewalks, and roads has been defrayed long enough and said, “We are paying heavily for it.” Morris said this will not construct miles of sidewalk, but it may cover a couple of projects. Strong agreed and added these projects cost about $150 per foot.

A new motion was made to appropriate $100,000 for sidewalk construction but added language for a reconstruction plan to study grant sourcing and passed unanimously.

A new article to appropriate $360,000 for the reclaiming and repaving of the Riverside School and town parking lot and spread out over two years ultimately failed after it was debated at length. The town owns 50% of the lot and the school owns the rest. The board and residents discussed whether to pave the entire lot or separate it into two projects. Strong said, and Hammond agreed, that it would cost more to mobilize the equipment twice if the project was done in two phases. Hammond asked about the limit and scope of work? Have there been test pits or geo probes? Is there an adequate gravel base? He said if we are going to do it, do it right.

Fire Chief Russell Thompson asked the board to consider widening the access at what he calls a chokepoint where it is nearly impossible to get fire trucks in.

Board member George McNaughton effectively ended the debate when he said the article asks for a full $360,000 commitment this year and doesn’t include the cost of permitting, which could slow down the process because of drainage and stormwater issues. He said his initial understanding was that the money would be appropriated $180,000 each year but he said the way it is worded the funds will be collected in one year, used over two years, and taxpayers will pay it all up front. McNaughton suggested adding language to include permitting and dollars to deal with permitting issues and engineering as well as take into consideration the chief’s recommendation. He said a year of planning here is necessary.

Vice Chair Walter Martone asked Strong if analysis was included in the paving quote and Strong answered no. Martone said it was not in the town’s best interest if the project has to be ripped up because of drainage issues. Chair Morris said with all of these considerations this is no longer a $360,000 project. A motion was made and passed 4-1 to appropriate $30,000 for engineering, planning, and permitting for the paving and drainage improvements of Riverside Middle School parking lot.

An article to appropriate $3,200,000 was also dead on arrival and included the construction of the River Street Walk and related betterments and enhancements at $1,752,000; the completion of Comtu Cascade Park between Main Street and the Black River at $278,000; and the redesign and reconstruction for the Town Hall parking lot and grounds at $270,000.

McNaughton said this special warrant article was very important to the strategic plan, and if it failed, it would throw the whole plan into a tailspin. He said there needs to be specifics about what will be done over the course of two years and although he said he was very much in favor of it, he didn’t think it could be done this year given other spending.

The board talked about whether to consider parts of the appropriation and discussed whether the town could consider a general obligation bond for $548,000 if they decided to just complete the Comtu Cascade Park and the Town Hall parking lot and grounds. Tom Yennerell said the original appropriation for $3,200,000 would have been bonded for 30 years at $110,000 per year. He was not sure if such a small amount, $548,000, could be bonded. It was noted that the parking lot is not currently ADA compliant, has a cracked wall, and is generally not user-friendly. Hammond recommended the board consider a five-year note instead of a bond.

After additional discussion, a new article was voted on and approved 4-1 to borrow an amount not to exceed $278,000 for the purpose of making improvements and the completion of Comtu Cascade Park. The River Street Walk and Town Hall parking lot projects were removed from the article.

All total, the board approved 31 warrant articles and 15 special appropriation articles, signed Jan. 27, and then formally moved to the warrant. On Monday, March 2, all matters voted upon by acclamation and not by ballot will be presented at 7:30 p.m. at the Springfield High School cafeteria. All appropriations by ballot, the election of town and School Board officers and all other business matters will be voted March 3 at the Riverside Elementary School Gymnasium, starting at 8 a.m.

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