Town Meeting

Derby meeting runs smoothly

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DERBY LINE — A quiet crowd collected in the gym of Derby Elementary School here Monday night, ready for the Town Meeting.  Approval of the warned articles went swiftly without much discussion.  Voters main concern appeared to be the cost of maintaining town roads.  Members of the state Legislature also rose to tell the public about their work in Montpelier through the first quarter of the year, as well as say what may come up in the future.

Moderator Frank Davis gave the floor first to Senator Russ Ingalls of Newport.  Senator Ingalls spoke at length about the state budget and spending.

“We just spent $10-billion in COVID money on top of historic budgets,” he said.  “That isn’t enough anymore.  They want to spend more and they want to raise your taxes.” He said that some may see property taxes increase by 20 percent.

“They have wealth taxes and other ideas but they aren’t working,” Mr. Ingalls continued.

Mr. Ingalls said that he thinks often about everyday Vermonters who work in service and manufacturing industries.

“They’ve never made a lot of money,” he said.  “They’ve never had a 401K or any of that.”

He said that people who rely on Social Security and state health care in their old age are living on $1,550 a month.

“Those people are really, really struggling,” Mr. Ingalls said.  “I also think about families that are getting started, trying to buy a house while there’s no inventory available and trying to educate their kids.  They’re struggling as well.  That’s just a perfect storm for them not to succeed.  When they don’t succeed, they don’t stay in the state.  Their kids don’t stay in the state.”

He said that he thinks climate change is also costing the state a good bit of money.

“I get it,” Mr. Ingalls said.  “We absolutely need to keep this state clean and for the most part we’re doing that, but we spend about $700-million a year on climate change.  As of right now we have no extra money.  I’d love to see us take half of that and look at the that plan to keep things green, but let us put that other $350-million back into our middle class.”

He suggested that some of the money could be used to combat drug issues.

“We’re losing whole generations of kids to drug addiction,” Mr. Ingalls said.  “They want to build safe injections sites for people to do a substance that isn’t legal anywhere in the world while not being able to charge anybody or dealers.”

Mr. Ingalls said he wants to keep Vermont an affordable place to live above all things.  “We need your help,” he said.  “We need you guys to hold us accountable.  You have to make sure we are voting based on what you value,”

He turned his attention, then, to education and its associated costs.

“We’re going to have to have a real conversation eventually,” Mr. Ingalls said.  “We’re going to have to talk honestly and openly about how we’re going to get the best result for what we spend.”

Mr. Ingalls encouraged people to get out and vote to show how they feel about the issues in their community.

“Get involved and vote.  Vote and vote and vote and vote,” he said.  “There are people all over the world who would love what we have.  I would love to see voting up in Vermont by 80 to 90 percent.  We’ll get there.”

Mr. Ingalls ended by thanking Derby’s citizens and reminded them that he is always available and willing to take a call to talk about issues citizens are facing.

Representative Brian Smith, who’s also a member of the Derby Select Board, then gave a brief legislative update similar to those he offers at select board meetings.

Representative Smith said that many of the committees his colleagues are in are spending more than saving.

“I’m watching all these other committees spend and spend,” he said.  “The Governor said money ran out a little while ago and we don’t have any to spare, but we’re still spending.”

Mr. Smith talked about the work he does in the House Committee on Environment and Energy.  He said that an upcoming bill intended to make changes to Act 250 continues to get longer and longer.

“It’s gone from 57 pages to 125 pages,” he said.  I’ve been reading, rereading it, and I still don’t understand it.”

Mr. Smith said he hopes to have others familiar with the bill’s language look it over in coming weeks to help make it more understandable and figure out if it will benefit residents of the Northeast Kingdom.

House Bill 289 was the next piece of new legislation that Mr. Smith talked about.

“Over a ten-year period, there are going to be electric rate increases,” he said.  “A percent of these increases is going to go towards electrifying Vermont.  Now, I’m not opposed to anyone getting an electric car.  If you can buy an electric car, great.  But, what I’m seeing in Montpelier is that it’s being crammed down everyone’s throat at everyone else’s expense.”

He said the bill is projected to cost taxpayers $1-billion over the course of ten years.  “That’s a concern of mine.  It doesn’t seem to be getting any headway.  The super majority is pushing bills through faster than you can track them,” Mr. Smith said.

Mr. Smith went on to outline a few other bills he and others in his committee have been working on, as well as other issues he’s inquired about.  He said that there is currently legislation in the works to look for an alternative landfill location.

“We can’t start this in 15 years when Casella has 25 years left,” he said.  “I think they run a very good and well scrutinized operation, but it’s still a great big dump that keeps getting bigger.”

He spoke about qualifications for a lake in crisis designation, and said he hopes he and others can remove the requirement that real estate values of lake adjacent properties must fall for a lake to be seen as being in crisis.

“We’ve got to try to get that off of there, because real estate values have nothing to do with the quality of the water,” Mr. Smith said.

The last piece of legislation that Mr. Smith wanted to talk about regarded illegal drugs.

“I’ve become way more aware of this since the death of Kayla Wright,” he said.  “It’s one of the biggest tragedies I’ve seen around here in a long time.”

Mr. Smith said that he had spoken with the parents of Ms. Wright who are working with the Attorney General’s office.

“There’s a bill in the General Assembly right now that isn’t moving, demanding ten years in prison for anyone dealing over 1,000 doses of fentanyl,” he said.  “Drugs are out of hand and something needs to be done about it.  The minority party is trying hard but the majority wants to rehabilitate instead of incarcerate.  If you rehabilitate a dealer who then goes out and kills one of your kids, that’s not very good.  I think someone like that should be in prison for a long time.”

Mr. Smith thanked townspeople for listening before the meeting carried on as usual.

Mr. Davis then asked that the gathering recognize the boards and appointed officials that help to manage the town.  He then asked for a moment of silence for town residents who died during the past year.  Mr. Davis then reviewed all of the positions up for reelection.  Of all the terms presented, only one presented any options to the voters.  With select board member Karen Chitambar’s two-year term ending, Gwen Bailey-Rowe and Lindsay Brainard are running for her position on the select board.

After approval of the minutes of last March’s meeting, Mr. Davis handed things over to members of the school board to discuss the school budget.  Board chair Nicole Brainard gave a brief presentation, highlighting the goals of the school and any major changes from the prior year in regards to costs.

“Our focus tends to stay the same every year,” Ms. Brainard said.  She said that the primary mission is to provide a comprehensive curriculum in line with the state’s standards, just as it always has been.  Looking at major factors contributing to the budget, increases in healthcare and revisions to personnal contracts played a large role.

Ms. Brainard said that funds made available during the coronavirus lockdowns meant to pay for specific staffing will soon expire.  The school board also is planning on getting new Chromebooks and updating digital infrastructure.  The increase overall to the budget totaled just under $550,000, the final figure standing at $8,014,798.  The crowd passed the budget with little discussion, and approved the school board’s request to put certain amounts in funds set aside for specific needs and projects coming up.

The meeting moved a little quicker after the school board presented its budget.

Voters agreed to waive the property tax on the municipal forest, a formality revisited every five years.  The select board was given the ability to spend up to $30,000 on real estate, an increase of $10,000.  Select board chair Grant Spates said that the increase was simply to account for increased costs associated with buying property. The board does not anticipate purchasing any substantial property.

“It’s there in case we need to expand a turn or curb,” Mr. Spates said.  The crowd also authorized the payment of taxes up until October 15 before becoming delinquent.

When it came time to talk about the funds appropriated toward rebuilding towns roads, the select board was asked if $200,000 will be enough.

“No it’s not,” said board member Stephen Gendreau who oversees the roads.  “It’s almost like helping us to keep the roads.  It would be nice if it is more.”

He went on to outline roads that would be getting worked on in the coming year.

“This year we’re looking at Prouty Drive, Bates Hill, Bushey Drive, Nelson Hill, Beebe Road, and Darling Hill.  That’s our wish list right now,” Mr. Gendreau said.

One resident asked about Salem Heights road and what it would take for it to be properly paved over.

“You’d probably have to have that $200,000 be $500,000,” Mr. Gendreau replied.  “I know Coventry’s budget is $850,000 and they have a lot fewer roads than us.”

After the voters passed the budgets for the town cemeteries, Ms. Chitambar moved to have articles presenting appropriations to different organizations be voted on as one.  The motion was approved.

A representative with the Northeast Kingdom Council on Aging said money given by the town helps disabled and elderly individuals throughout the community and thanked voters for their support.

The proposed appropriations were approved unanimously.

Before moving on to the final item, the budget for the town’s costs alone, the crowd was given an opportunity to ask Orleans County Sheriff Jennifer Harlow questions.  Presented with none, Ms. Harlow reminded the community that her department is always available to answer questions and take concerns.

Mr. Smith took a moment to thank the Sheriff Harlow  for coming out and the work her department does.

“The sheriff is pretty dependable for showing up at the annual meeting,” he said.  “You guys do a great job for the town of Derby and it’s money well spent, so I thank you.”

Mr. Spates then took a moment to thank Ms. Chitambar for her time on the select board.

“She’s always been a great person to work with and I will miss her,” he said.

The meeting’s last task was to pass the town budget.  The total amount required by the board for the year was $3,021,646.14.  Mr. Spates moved to approve the budget, seconded from a member of the public.  Voters unanimously approved the budget.

Before the meeting closed, Mr. Spates asked people to consider something to help the state raise more money without impacting taxpayers.  That could be done, he said, by increasing rooms and meals taxes.  Doing so would bring in money without affecting tourism,

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