By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Reporter
SOUTH HERO – Road paving and public safety issues were among the key topics discussed during the informational portion of the annual South Hero Town Meeting on Saturday.
Selectboard Chairman Jonathan Shaw told residents that the proposed annual $675,830 highway budget includes $150,000 to help South Hero with overdue resurfacing of paved roads. He said it is time to put a second coat on several roads.
‘We need to start catching up,” Shaw said.
Shaw also explained there is a separate $150,000 special ballot item to see if voters want to pave a portion of the remaining dirt roads in South Hero.
Voters also will consider a proposed $1,206,461 annual municipal budget, which needs $852,105 generated in local taxes. Shaw said the Selectboard tried to keep the budget as low as possible. He said there are some extraordinary legal costs, one due to an appeal to the Vermont Supreme Court and the other for a case pending in Superior Court.
The highway and general municipal budgets, along with seven special ballot items and a slate of uncontested races will all be considered on Tuesday. Voting is from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the South Hero Town Offices on U.S. 2.
On the school portion of the ballot, the South Hero School Board is seeking approval of a proposed $3,904,721 budget during the day-long balloting on Tuesday.
Besides filling five school positions, including four on the board, voters will be asked whether any unencumbered funds from the current budget should be placed in a reserve fund for future capital improvements to the Folsom School.
During the Saturday meeting, voters took care of a few minor town and school housekeeping issues. They included allowing residents to pay taxes in three installments during the year, or permitting a 3 percent discount for those that pay the full bill by Sept. 30.
Voters also agreed that any town surplus at the end of the current fiscal year will be used to reduce taxes for the next fiscal year.
Residents were told about a special ballot item that would allow the town to hire Emergency Medical Technician assistance to provide daytime coverage when South Hero Rescue is short-staffed. The Selectboard has proposed spending up to $55,000 for the staffing.
Under questioning, Shaw explained it would be up to the Selectboard to do the hiring and that anybody hired would be a town employee with the usual municipal benefits. He said the job description is still being drafted.
The Selectboard also was asked if it was possible to get South Hero Volunteer Fire Department and South Hero Rescue, which are independent agencies from the town, to provide their respective annual budgets for future South Hero town reports.
Both public safety agencies moved into a new town-owned public safety building on U.S. 2 in June 2018. The project included a $1.3 million bond vote approved by residents.
Shaw said the board could make the same offer it provides the Worthen Library Board.
Volunteer Fire Chief Kim Julow said she was more than willing to share the budget in the town report.
Nobody spoke on behalf of South Hero Rescue about sharing its annual income and expenses.
One fire department question centered on spending $62,000 for equipment with no explanation. Julow said a large portion was for 10 new breathing devices for firefighters.
Shaw also told residents that Milton Rescue is now the official back-up ambulance for South Hero Rescue. He said Grand Isle Rescue is facing the same staffing shortage and due to the volume of calls has begged off serving as backup to South Hero.
Selectboard member Ann Zolotas, who is a member of South Hero Rescue, said volunteerism is a problem not only in Grand Isle County, but across the state and nation.
Residents of the town can volunteer their services for non-ambulance help. Volunteers are needed to stuff envelopes for fund raising, duties within the rescue squad building. People not interested in serving as one of the two medical personnel needed for each call, can volunteer to drive the ambulance, Zolotas said.
She noted there was a call for a car rollover about 7:15 a.m. Saturday and she was the only person to respond from South Hero. She said Milton had to be dispatched because South Hero did not have two certified responders.
“The old days are gone. We are in a new era,” she said.
She said more people are working off the islands and that is putting more pressure on those that remain behind to become involved.
One resident suggested that perhaps it was time to consider several towns joining forces. He noted that several towns near Shrewsbury in Rutland County worked together to overcome a shortage of staffing.
Shaw also told voters the town is seeking $40,000 to repair the town garage floor and the apron in front of the doors for the trucks to park on. That will allow them to be washed and cleaned before being put away, Shaw said.
Chair Melanie Henderson said the school budget includes salary increases that are part of an effort to remove South Hero teachers from being the lowest paid educators in northwest Vermont.
She said by raising the baseline, South Hero will be able to attract and retain good teachers.
Henderson said South Hero has roughly 130 students.
The school portion of the meeting took less than an hour and several questions centered on funding for special education, both at the town level and the supervisory union district.
At the end of the school discussion School Board member Bentley Vaughan presented a plant to Henderson as the outgoing Chair. Vaughan and School Director Tim Maxham, who also is the moderator, noted Henderson was active in education before joining the school board. They noted she helped write the Act 46 report that allowed South Hero to remain a single school district and not be forced to join another district against its will. She also served on the supervisory board.
At the end of the town discussion, Shaw presented retiring Selectboard member Sharon Roy with flowers. He noted after serving as the longtime town clerk and town treasurer, she jumped into retirement by running for the Selectboard two years ago.
The town also paid tribute to Dr. David Hobbs, who had the annual town report dedicated to him. Besides serving as the doctor for many of the residents for about 38 years, Hobbs was a longtime town volunteer even in retirement. It included as chair of the recreation committee.
Just before the final adjournment, Doug Patterson of the South Hero Planning Commission briefly mentioned new zoning bylaws that are designed to establish two village districts for growth in the town.
The proposal will be discussed at the Selectboard Meeting on March 9. The meeting begins at 6 p.m., but the zoning bylaws are expected to be toward the end.
The idea is to focus growth in two areas and allow the remainder of the town to keep its rural nature, he said. One growth area is on U.S. 2 near South Street, which is considered the village area. The other is further north along U.S. 2 in the Keeler Bay section of town, he said.