Town Meeting

Newport Center Town Meeting

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School budget squeaks through

by Matthew Wilson

NEWPORT CENTER — Conversation around education was a large part of the discussion by Newport Center voters.  At their meeting, held, as usual, in the evening of Town Meeting Day, voting around the town’s school showed some division about the cost of keeping the institution running.  Representatives from the Orleans County Sheriff’s Department and the Newport Center Fire Department also faced questions about the work their agencies do.

At the start of the meeting, select board chair Steve Barrup asked for a moment of silence for those who have died in the past year and for American troops abroad.  The gathering then reelected Moderator Richard Tetreault.  He led the meeting through the reelection of a handful of officials in the town government and school board.

When Mr. Barrup was nominated, he took a moment to make sure no one else wanted the position.

“It’s been 25 years, so if somebody else wants the job,” Mr. Barrup said, garnering a laugh from the town residents.

The first item on the Warning was whether voters would approve Newport Center’s contract with the Orleans County Sheriff’s Department.   A resident asked for a simple rundown of what the funds pay for.  Representing the department Sergeant Richard Wells said the contract pays for a certain amount of monthly patrolling hours in the town.  When asked how the town could receive more coverage, he said that the town could contract more hours.  He encouraged people to call in anything they see or hear.  The crowd, without dissent, approved $20,496 for the department’s services.

Town residents then approved the contract with Newport Ambulance Service without discussion.  Newport Ambulance asked for $67,491, about $300 less than the prior year.

When the matter of money for  Newport Town Fire Department came up, one resident had a few questions.  The department was asking for a total of $100,678, split into two requests, one for  $70,678, would go for operating expenses, the $30,000 designated for a fund for replacing aging equipment and vehicles.

Town resident Bruce Sargent asked about fundraisers the fire department has conducted, a barbecue held at the firehouse and a raffle for some guns.  Mr. Sargent asked for some accounting for the event and the raffle.  He then asked if the department has been recently audited.

Fire Chief Jason Willis explained how the money from the fundraisers is accounted for and assured voters that nothing is amiss.  He said the fundraising had been successful and had helped to lower the amount the department asked of the town.  Chief Willis also said the department was audited within the last five years, but later learned it was inappropriate for the town to pay for the examination of department finances.

Since then the department has not paid for a private audit.  After the chief answered Mr. Sargent’s questions, voters passed the appropriation with only the questioning resident voting against the funding.  Shortly after, while the group was talking briefly about a small appropriation for special busing, the firefighters in the crowd rushed out to do their duty, as a fire called them away from the meeting.

As the 7 p.m. time for polls to close approached, the sounds of a fire engines were audible.

There was a 15-minute break as votes were counted.  When the meeting was called back to order, Mr. Tetreault announced the budget for the North Country Union High School and North Country Career Center was passed by a margin of 78 to 74 with two people casting blank ballots.

The meeting then turned its attention to the $3,809,719 budget for the Newport Town Elementary School.

Two members of the school board, Jill Raymond and Cameron Thompson, talked about the mission of the school, how children are doing with their studies, and details about increased costs.  Ms. Raymond told the gathering about the new playground equipment, inviting townspeople to bring their kids and grandkids to enjoy the equipment during the day anytime school is not in session.  Ms. Raymond also went over some statistics to show how the students are progressing.  She showed data that showed that, while still below the national average, the reading and mathematics comprehension of the student body is moving forward at the same rate as students nationally.  In some instances, the gap between the national average and the school’s was even shown to be closing.

Mr. Thompson explained where some of the increases in cost in the new budget came from.  He said federal funding that was implemented during the pandemic to assist in remote learning will end this year.  Mr. Thompson also talked about how the Common Level of Appraisal (CLA) affected the education budget across the state.  Through the pandemic, many homes were purchased at inflated prices when compared to their listed value.  The difference between the two has raised the CLA for many towns across the region, including Newport Center.  Mr. Thompson said that recent legislation helped to mitigate the impact of the CLA and lower the rate that property owners pay in taxes toward education.

Resident Robert Best asked if data comparing the comprehension of Newport Center students to the average across the state is available.  Principal Shelly Lanou said such data has been held by the state since a change in testing to gauge the metric was put into place about three years ago.  Mr. Best said that he wanted to see the budget slimmed down.

“There’s always something that can be taken out,” Mr. Best said.  It was decided to have the budget voted on by paper ballot.  After the votes were totaled, 34 were in favor of the budget and 27 were against it.

The only other item to see any discussion was the $327,227 select board budget.  Resident Adam Messier asked about a few increases at the town office.  Mr. Barrup said Town Clerk Denise Daigle is looking for an assistant who can take on her responsibilities in the future.  The budget passed unanimously.

Mr. Tetreault led the group through the remainder of the and each item was approved without discussion.  When the opportunity to speak about any other business came, resident Ernest Choquette asked how the location of a new pond on Vance Hill Road was chosen and its siting had not been brought before the public to get town approval.

Mr. Barrup said that, money for the pond came from pandemic relief funding, so the select board had the authority to pay for the pond and that the site was chosen because it sits upon town land.

Mr. Choquette argued that placement on town land should have been voted on by the people.  Mr. Barrup said putting the pond anywhere else would have cost additional money for the purchase of a site.



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