Town Meeting: Fairlee residents add back money for fireworks display

By LIZ SAUCHELLI

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 03-10-2023 11:15 PM

FAIRLEE — Fairlee voters gathered in person for the first time since 2020 to approve all articles at Town Meeting on Tuesday.

The lone amendment was the addition of $8,000 to the town’s operating budget for the annual Fourth of July fireworks display, which had been cut from the operating budget after budget committee members heard from residents who were concerned about rising costs.

The 94 voters present approved the amended budget and the 10 other articles — though not without some debate — during the roughly 75-minute meeting in the auditorium on the second floor of Town Hall.

Numerous residents spoke in support of adding funds for the fireworks, including Jeff Soyer, who suggested the additional $8,000 wouldn’t change residents’ tax burden that much.

“Come on, folks, put that back in,” Soyer said to applause.

Town treasurer Lisa Hinsley said the fireworks funding would amount to an additional $9.50 on a home valued at $250,000.

“Well spent!” someone shouted out in response.

That was followed up by a “darn right!”

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Selectboard Chairman Peter Berger said that board members, along with the budget committee, made the decision to look for cuts after an initial budget proposal came in 14% higher than last year. After making cuts, that increase shrank to 9%.

“We needed to look for places to take money out of the budget,” Berger said.

Of the $1.26 million budget, $950,000 is to come from property taxes.

Two other articles — one about the highway budget and another on capital improvement funds — generated spirited debate.

Bob Maddock questioned why the town was spending money on sidewalks and on storm drainage on Route 5.

“The town doesn’t even maintain the sidewalks,” he said.

Others in the crowd mumbled agreements.

Berger and Catherine McGrath, who was reelected to another three-year term on the Selectboard at the start of Town Meeting, spoke about how the sidewalks and crosswalks helped improve safety in town. McGrath also noted that during recent efforts to collect community feedback for a grant, a common request from residents was sidewalks along Route 5, which serves as Fairlee’s Main Street.

“I’m really looking forward to feeling safe,” Miranda Clemson said about the sidewalk project.

During a discussion about capital reserve funds, Dashiell Rae suggested money set aside to purchase a utility terrain vehicle (UTV) would be better spent on a drone.

“A UTV will not locate a missing person,” Rae said.

McGrath pointed out that since a drone would cost under $10,000, it typically would be funded through the operating budget rather than capital reserve funds.

“Having a drone find someone, that is great, but it does not equip us” to provide medical care or rescue someone, said Ross Cannon, who leads the Fairlee Fast Squad and is a member of the town’s fire department.

Toward the end of the meeting, the Selectboard honored Jason Bachus, who recently stepped down as Fairlee’s police chief to take the top job in the Orford Police Department. (Wayne Briggs is the town’s new chief.)

They also honored Bruce Taylor, who has served as town moderator for 25 years.

After the meeting concluded, Town Clerk Georgette Wolf-Ludwig spoke with admiration about Taylor’s service and about how happy she was to return to traditional Town Meeting after two years of voting by Australian ballot.

“I love in-person Town Meeting,” she said.

Elected officials

Number of voters: 94

Number on checklist: 772

Moderator: Bruce Taylor

Selectboard: Catherine H. McGrath

Treasurer: Lisa Hensley

Lister: Russell Collins

Auditor (2 years): Sandra Smith-Ordway

Auditor (3 years): vacant

Budget Committee (2 years): Richard Kenney

Budget Committee (3 years): Adam Stewart

Planning Commission: Lynn Fitzhugh

Cemetery Commissioner: Chad Pierson

Library Trustee: Diane Sherman

Recreation Council (1 year): vacant

Recreation Council (1 year): vacant

Recreation Council (2 years): vacant

Recreation Council (3 years): vacant

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

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