McDowell wins select board seat
by Joseph Gresser
In the only contested election of Barton’s Town Meeting Monday night, voters chose Dee McDowell over Jeff Como to take the select board seat given up by Lenny Zenonos. Ms. McDowell had 47 votes to Mr. Como’s 36. A few votes went to other people or were spoiled
The paper ballots came out again at the end of the meeting to abolish the office of lister in the town.
Voters found themselves confused by an error in the town report despite being offered a page that corrected the mistake.
Former select board member Robert Croteau used the problem to move that town officers reports not be accepted until the results of a town audit come in.
Barton Clerk and Treasurer Kristin Atwood asked forgiveness for the confusion and explained what happened. When the select board decided to raise salaries by 3 percent across the board, Ms. Atwood said, she multiplied current salaries on her spreadsheet by 1.03. Somehow, when she copied those figures to the town report those numbers disappeared and were all replaced by zeros.
Ms. Atwood pointed out that the only part of the report that was wrong was the budget request for 2023. An audit will not affect that number, she said and the audit won’t be ready for some time to come. She asked voters to approve the report through December 31, 2022, and the meeting agreed to do so.
The mistake didn’t change the total requested by the select board to cover its expenses, that came to $585,175.82. That was $32,000 more than what was budgeted last year and the increase was largely attributable to changing from elected listers to a professional hired by the town.
When Moderator Bill Davies asked for nominations for vacant lister positions, he got a motion calling for that vote to be delayed until the town decided whether or not to keep the office.
At the time the budget was discussed the matter had not been settled, but Ms. Atwood said there would have been little difference had the town decided to keep the old system in place. That, she said, was because three listers needed to be elected and all would need training on the computer system used to calculate and record property values.
The listers, Ms. Atwood went on to say, are elected to provide a Grand List in time for taxes to be calculated, by law in mid-April. That means checking new construction, subdivisions, and alterations to existing buildings and figuring their new values.
Relying on volunteers has meant Barton has had to grant extensions to the listers in every recent year, meaning calculations based on the total of the Grand List were delayed.
The listers do not perform townwide reappraisals, Ms. Atwood said. Those are done when the state says a town’s property values are too far out of line with recent sales. Barton has already signed a contract with a firm to perform a reassessment starting in the coming year, she said.
The person hired to perform the listers’ duties would be someone else, perhaps working alone or maybe through a company, Ms. Atwood said.
When the time came to vote on eliminating the office of lister in Barton, Mr. Davies declared the ayes had it with few, if any nays.
Voters agreed to the select board’s budget request on a voice vote.
They also approved the highway department budget of $873,963.14. It also rose due to higher prices for parts and fuel.
Voters also said yes to all the appropriation requests. A motion to increase the $19,500 requests for the Barton and Jones Memorial libraries to $25,000 for each library was narrowly defeated by a margin of 28 in favor and 30 opposed. The smaller amount passed without opposition.
As the meeting drew to a close a voter asked Mr. Davies if he had erred with the vote on dispensing with the listers. The alert citizen pointed out the Warning, which called for a ballot on the measure.
Mr. Davies acknowledged his mistake and the voters who remained lined up to collect their ballots and, after filling them out, deposit them in the ballot box.
In the end, the result was the same.
Mr. Davies called for a motion to adjourn and didn’t have to wait for one to be proposed and seconded. He closed the evening by commenting that he thought it would be better to hold next year’s Town Meeting in one of the two village municipal buildings rather than the Lake Region Union High School gym.
He said, accurately, that the acoustics in the gym were not conducive to public discussion.