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By Rachel Goff
At Town Meeting in Warren, residents denied a motion to recess for lunch and instead worked straight through 14 articles—all of which were approved, with a few minor amendments. At the end of the meeting, a town budget of $3,835,456 passed via voice vote, marking a 30.92 percent increase over last year.
Most of the budget increase can be attributed to some long-overdue highway department projects. “One of our goals is to get all of the roads fixed,” Warren Select Board member Bob Ackland said, so that the town can then establish a cycle of regular repairs.
Unfortunately right now, “We’re still playing catch-up,” Ackland said. Repaving Inferno Road will cost about $441,000, and fixing the slide in West Hill Road will cost about $395,000. Both projects are included in next year’s budget, as well as several expensive yet equally essential culvert repairs.
Looking to save money in other areas, residents made a motion to remove $30,000 allotted for reappraisal from the budget. “If the listers don’t need it, I don’t see why it should be there,” one taxpayer argued, and the motion passed. Residents also voted to reduce Warren’s contribution to the Mad River Valley Recreation Fund from $16,000 to $12,500, which remains consistent with last year’s allotment.
On the other hand, residents approved an article to increase spending by $1,000 for MRVTV. This money will supplement the $2,000 Warren had already allocated for the public access station, and it will allow MRVTV to increase their coverage of meetings and events and make more content available online.
While most of Town Meeting discussion centers around costs—and how to keep them as low as possible—residents prioritized protecting the environment when they approved an article allocating $10,000 to the Conservation Reserve Fund and unanimously voted in favor of an anti-tar sands resolution in Vermont.
CEASE MAILING TOWN REPORTS
The town also voted to cease mailing Town Reports to every household. Instead, the reports will be mailed only to those who voted at Town Meeting in the previous year and will be available online or by request. According to Reta Gross, the town clerk, this will save Warren at least $800 each year.
While some residents argued that everyone has a right to receive a report—“maybe we’d get more people at Town Meeting then,” one resident proposed—others expressed their disappointment upon walking into the post office and seeing dozens of reports surrounding the recycling bins. Ultimately, voters approved the article to reduce mailing and even added an amendment to print the reports on recycled paper.
Town Meeting Day gives taxpayers an opportunity to participate in the local decision-making process for at least a day, but when one resident proposed an amendment to an article that would “empower the select board to accept any land if given to the town or to purchase any land within the town,” taxpayers were reminded of those elected officials who act on their behalf as opportunities arise throughout the year.
Some residents seemed hesitant to give the select board the authority to spend what could be considerable sums to purchase land within the town, but Ackland spoke in defense of the article and of his title.
“What if the town was up against another bidder to buy a vital piece of land and they lost it, because they had to wait to hold a public forum before making an offer?” Ackland asked. “I’m proud to stand up here and know that I acted in the best interest of the town,” he said. In the end, residents agreed and voted in favor of the original article.
Warren School Board meeting
At the beginning of Town Meeting, voters approved a Warren School Board budget of $2,298,047, which reflects a 5.6 percent increase over last year.
The increase in Warren Elementary School’s budget is largely due to factors outside of the school’s control, such as a statewide 14 percent increase in health insurance costs and a 3.5 percent increase in teacher salaries. To save money, the school has planned for a slight reduction in instructional assistant and paraeducator hours.
The good news is Warren Elementary School had the lowest per pupil spending in the Washington West Supervisory Union (WWSU) for last year, and the school ranked 10th in the state according to 2012 test scores.
The school budget was approved via voice vote. Residents debated whether it should be put to Australian ballot, as many are not able to attend the midweek meetings, but in the end the notion was disregarded, as taxpayers appreciate the opportunity for discussion at Town Meeting that is otherwise absent in ballot votes.
Residents thanked Kirsten Reilly for her work on the Warren Select Board. Reilly did not run for re-election this year, but Colleen Mays was elected to take her place for a two-year term. Select board member Andy Cunningham was re-elected for a three-year term.
In Warren, of the 1,290 residents registered to vote, 232 voted by Australian ballot on Town Meeting Day.