Town Meeting

Charleston Town Meeting

• Bookmarks: 10


CHARLESTON — Charleston’s  school gymnasium was packed Tuesday morning, with 105 voters turning out for the annual Town Meeting, up from 65 last year.  There were many new faces in the room along with old-timers, and the mood was warm and friendly overall.

After Jean Wilson was unanimously voted in again as moderator for both the school district and town portions of the Warning, attention turned to re-electing Mary Esposito, unopposed, to her three-year term as school director.  Sarah Jenness was not up for election this year.  The two-year term to fulfill Ryan Besaw’s position, which he stepped down from this year, led to a three-way run between Charleston native Rebecca Midthun, who received 56 votes to Megan Heron’s 18, and Shaina Shover with 15.  Mary Esposito was then nominated and elected unanimously to represent Charleston on the North Country Supervisory Union Board. Teri Gray was reinstated, unopposed, as school district treasurer.

Next up was the much-anticipated discussion on the school budget.  Charleston, like many towns around the state, is facing a substantial increase in the school budget due to loss of its COVID ESSER funding, and the loss of the $115,649 Small Schools grant among other changes.

The loss of the Small Schools grant was due to Charleston having a hundred and a half students — the half student putting Charleston over the hundred student limit to qualify as a small-school.

“How can you have a half a student?” one voter exclaimed.  School Board Director Mary Esposito replied that it has to do with averaging over the last two years, and that sometimes that ends in these results.  Select board representative Peter Moskovites stepped in to offer that it has to do with the new school funding formula, which applies various weights to various demographics, including poverty.  Mr. Moskovites also urged folks to contact legislators about what he called “unfunded mandates,” including special education, which promised more money than has actually been delivered.

Ems. sposito then gave a masterful explanation of the ins and outs of this year’s school budgeting, “a lot of talk which we will explain.” And explain she did, helping voters to realize just how complicated this year’s budget process was.  For example, the Common Level of Appraisal in Charleston was negatively impacted by the fact that properties in Charleston since  COVID sold for more than their appraised value. This means the town has more wealth, requiring more local taxes.

Ms. Esposito went on, saying “H-850 also took away the 5 percent cap on budget increases, all in all resulting in a $200 increase on a $100,000 home.”

On another topic, an audience member raised the question about the cost-benefit of sending Charleston seventh and eighth graders to the junior high in Derby.  Ms. Esposito promised there would soon be a community forum to discuss this question.  Select board member Pat Austin rose to say that the question had come up three times before when he was on the school board and it had been voted down three times.

Bob Devaney, always the joker, spoke up, “Send the half student to the junior high!” which would have made Charleston eligible as a Small Schools grant once again.  His humor was appreciated, as Mary Esposito promised once again that they will hold a community forum on the junior high option.

Voters were persuaded, in spite of the increase in the school budget, that the board had done its best and passed the budget 57-42.  Principal Chris Lawson was treated to a round of applause for his cooperation with the school board in maintaining quality education in Charleston.

From that point on, things rolled along to the business of the town.  With Jean Wilson still in place as moderator, the election of the select board member for a three-year term was first up.  Incumbent Pat Austin was challenged by Justice of the Peace Terry Rollins, who edged out Austin 48-42.

All other incumbent Officers were reinstated unopposed:  Jean Wilson, lister; Michael Morelli, Auditor; delinquent tax collector and cemetery commissioner Grace Frizzell.  Second constable Natasha Anya Tynio declined renomination as second constable citing a conflict, but agreed to stay on for the time being when no one else was nominated.

Once voters authorized the collection of property taxes by Friday, October 25, 2024, they moved on, without any discussion, to pass unanimously by voice vote the town budget of $1,223,388.48 for the year beginning January 1, 2024.  Of that amount, $753,462.66 will be raised by taxes and $469,925.82 by non-tax revenue.

The Charleston Volunteer Fire Department was rewarded unanimously for its good work with the requested sum of $55,609, one voter commenting out loud, “Good value for what we get!”

A new reserve fund called the Cemetery Stone Preservation Fund was established to repair and clean gravestones in accordance with 24 VSA section 2804.  This fund will be underwritten by a set-aside of a portion of proceeds from the sale of each cemetery lot to be determined by the cemetery commissioners.  Last, but not least, level funding of $11,274 was unanimously approved for the fourteen various community organizations that received funding last year.  An additional $1,250 was approved for the Dailey Memorial Library in Derby.

In new business, Peggy Stevens,  Charleston representative to the NEKBroadband Communications Union District, reported on progress made in the last year toward bringing fiber-optic high-speed internet to Charleston.  The great news is that a $17.5-million Reconnect Grant is secured to fund this project that prioritizes bringing quality internet service to citizens with limited access to high-speed internet.  Folks were encouraged to pre-register with get.nekbroadband.org, knowing that service to Charleston will likely begin construction by 2025.

Phone service will be available as well, to be bundled with internet.  Also, Ms. Stevens informed the crowd, a Workforce Development no-cost training program starts May 8 this year, to increase employment and economic impact in our region.  NEK Broadband is committed to hiring as many local people as possible to build its network as pole-climbers, bucket truck workers, and in fiber splicing as well as home-installation.  Contact nekbroadband.org/careers for more information.

One last item was a pitch by Penelope Newcomb to bring back the community meal, which previously, until COVID, was a Charleston Town Meeting tradition.  A potluck luncheon is a fine way for townsfolk to wrap up the meeting, it was agreed.  With that, the meeting was adjourned.

Voting in the Primary and NCUHS elections continued throughout the day, with vote counting beginning at 7 p.m.

 

by Peggy Stevens

 

 

 

Share
10 recommended
104 views
bookmark icon