CALAIS — The town cleared its budget hurdles, with minor adjustments, at town meeting Tuesday, but the event was not without its emotional moments.  The elementary school budget passed 262-74, the U-32 budget by ???, and the town budget by a healthy floor vote. But there were challenges to articles dealing with appropriations for requests from some nonprofits and town requests to maintain cemeteries and buy a wood chipper. A much larger request to renovate the town hall passed easily after a short discussion.  Held at Calais Elementary School, there was only a small turnout for the school budget presentation but a much larger showing later for the town budget portion of the meeting. It was a typically lively event at times with emotional speeches by a local farmer, lobbying for increased support for battered women and relief from rising property taxes that are hurting the farm industry. Town treasurer and former Town Clerk Donna Fitch, who retires after seven years, was twice recognized for her service to the town.  The meeting began with the election of Town Moderator Gus Seelig, followed by a presentation of the elementary school budget by School Board Vice Chairwoman Katie Reed and Principal Cat Fair.   The town request for $1.525 million for general fund and town highway spending passed. Additional ballot articles calling for an additional $183,069 brought the total request to $1.707 million compared with $1.585 million, an increase of 7.5 percent. Article 17, asking for a $31,448 appropriation to purchase a wood chipper, contingent upon receipt of a $10,000 grant, was amended with the cost coming out of surplus highway funds instead.  Overall, with all budgets passed, the property tax rate will rise 3.8 percent in fiscal year 2019. That would mean an increase of $185 on a home worth $200,000.  Among the most passionate pleas for increased funding came from local dairy farmer Doug Lilley. He challenged a request for $27,132 under Article 5 for the Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier, an increase of $1,372 from this year. He argued that technology was displacing the need for brick-and mortar libraries.   "I'm not saying I'm against the Kellogg-Hubbard Library but it's a lot of money for the town of Calais," Lilley said.  Lilley asked that the library appropriation be reduced by $7,000 and donated instead to Circle, a battered women's shelter in Barre. His motion to amend the article failed. But he had more luck when the meeting turned to a slew of appropriation requests in Article 7 when his amendment, to increase the Circle's request for $700 by $3,300, to a total of $4,000, succeeded. Other challenges to the library appropriation failed.  There was a successful request by resident Barry Bernstein to increase the funding for the Vermont Center for Independent Living in Montpelier from $415 to $800.  Lilley was also a focus of attention when state Rep. Janet Ancel took to the floor. First, she read a proclamation by the Legislature, commending Fitch on her public service. Fitch received a standing ovation.  But after a brief presentation on Ancel's work as Ways and Means Committee chairwoman on property and income tax reform, Lilley complained bitterly about the number of dairy farms closing because of the property tax burden.  "I've been talking to you for years and years, until I'm blue in the face, about property tax," Lilley said. "Do you know that farmers in the state of Vermont are going out business, they're filing for bankruptcy?"  He reeled off a list of farms that have closed locally and elsewhere in the state. He also complained about the low price of milk and associated taxes for hauling and processing milk.  "There's nothing left for me," Lilley said. "We can't operate like this anymore. Why isn’t someone talking about agriculture? This state would be nothing with agriculture. We need agriculture."   The residents voted unanimously, after a brief discussion, for the biggest-single ticket item, to spend $200,000 on a renovation of the town hall. However, there were appeals from some residents to use town facilities like the town hall and community center to provide services for the elderly and youth that might help lower taxpayer appropriations for the similar services elsewhere.  The town agreed to join a communications district for fiber-optic, high-speed internet access.  The Calais Climate Resolution also passed. Residents also voted for town and school offices. They included re-electing Calais Select Board incumbents Denise Wheeler and John Brabant, and Clif Emmons who was appointed in October to fill the seat of Rob Richert. Wilson Hughes was voted lister after being appointed in November to fill the seat of Laura Fillbach.  On the Calais School Board, incumbent chairwoman Suzanne Culver was re-elected, and Richard Kehne was elected to succeed Keith McMartin, who did not run again. U-32 School Board incumbent member C. Scott Thompson was re-elected, as was incumbent clerk and treasurer Mary Ormsby.  Sales from the proceeds of a potluck lunch after town meeting will benefit the town hall renovation project.  stephen.mills@timesargus.com     

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