• Williamstown ballot includes 2 cent rate hike, surplus
    By David Delcore
     | January 23,2013

    WILLIAMSTOWN — A $2.5 million bond to construct a new public safety building in Williamstown now has company on the Town Meeting Day ballot.

    The Select Board this week adopted general fund and highway fund budget requests that would collectively trigger a 2-cent increase in the local tax rate and finalized a town meeting warning that will, among other things, ask voters what to do with nearly $250,000 in surplus money.

    On a night when they had second thoughts about selling a second ambulance, decided to dicker with the lone bidder for a parcel of town-owned property, and held off on the planned purchase of a pickup truck, the board set the stage for town meeting.

    Two weeks after agreeing to warn a Town Meeting Day vote on the $2.5 million bond issue for the proposed public safety building, the board fleshed out the questions voters will confront March 5.

    All but one will be answered on the floor of a traditional town meeting. The bond issue, which must be decided by a daylong voting system commonly referred to as the Australian ballot, is the exception this year. That will be settled by voters who cast ballots at Williamstown Middle High School between 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. on March 5, as well as those who take advantage of early voting.

    Two informational meetings about the public safety building have been scheduled next month at the local fire station. The first is set for Monday, Feb. 11 at 7 p.m. and the second on Saturday, Feb. 23 at 11 a.m.

    The Select Board wasted little time adopting two budget requests that are essentially level funded.

    Virtually all of the increase in the $1.03 million general fund budget can be traced to a decision to incorporate $20,000 that was separately voted for the sheriff’s department last year into the spending plan for the coming fiscal year. The $940,701 highway budget is up roughly $2,000, though anticipated state revenue has dropped by about $36,000.

    Town Manager Jackie Higgins said approval of both budgets and nearly $35,000 of special spending requests would add about 2 cents to the municipal portion of the local tax rate. The rate, she said, would climb from 52.48 cents to 54.66 cents per $100 of assessed property value.

    In agreeing to ask voters to raise $731,000 in taxes to support the proposed general fund budget, and $792,000 to support the proposed highway fund budget, board members agreed that increase was reasonable.

    “I think this budget is about as lean as we’re ever going to get it,” said Selectman Matt Rouleau.

    Higgins’ tax rate projections assume approval of nearly $35,000 in special spending requests that range from $225 for the Orange County Diversion Program to $10,000 for the Williamstown Historical Society. Included in the requests is $2,500 in seed money for a town celebration.

    In adopting the Town Meeting Day warning, the board answered lingering questions about its plans for recently audited year-end surpluses for both major budgets.

    The board will ask voters to appropriate $40,000 of a $172,000 general fund surplus to a renovation fund for the town offices while placing the balance of the money in a fund that could be used to stabilize the tax rate in future years.

    Meanwhile, the board is asking voters to place the $77,000 highway surplus in a fund that would be used to upgrade local roads.

    In other business Monday night, the board opted not to sell its backup ambulance at this time, to negotiate with the town resident who offered to buy the old water tank property on Route 64 for $27,000, and to do a little more shopping before buying a new pickup truck for the highway department.

    Although they had previously agreed to sell the second ambulance, board members decided to change course after hearing that the 1994 emergency vehicle is mechanically sound but probably wouldn’t fetch what it is worth.

    The board agreed to try to persuade resident David Farnham to up his offer for the 2.1-acre water tank property to $30,000. The counter-offer, they agreed, would be closer to the property’s assessed value of just over $43,000.

    Although board members reviewed four bids for a new pickup truck, they decided to do a little more homework before making the purchase.

    Bids ranged from just under $21,000 for a 2012 half-ton pickup from Formula Ford to just over $25,000 for a 2013 three-quarter-ton pickup from Cody Chevrolet.

    david.delcore @timesargus.com

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