(This story was first published in the Jan. 30, 2014 edition of the Standard.)
By Michelle Fields, Standard Correspondent
Woodstock town meeting should move a little faster this year over last with just 14 special article requests for a total of $201,797 compared to last year’s 18 requests totaling $314,747. The overall town budget request is up 3.9 percent to $4,619,937.
The town budget request (without any special articles or school budget figured in) will result in an estimated 1.1 cent increase in the tax rate according to Town Manager Phil Swanson.
Select Board Chair Bob Holt noted that the large decrease in special article requests come primarily from the lack of two articles from last year: a digital projector for the Town Hall at $60,000 which passed and the funding of an economic development coordinator at $50,000, which did not pass.
“The voters of Woodstock have the opportunity to do as they please in regards to special articles,” said Holt. Though the Select Board changed the procedure this year requiring all monetary special article requests to obtain signatures from 5 percent of Woodstock’s voters (about 155 people) to be on the ballot, Holt did not think this was the reason for the decrease in requests as most groups had been doing that anyway.
Only one of the 18 organizations seeking funding through special articles this year asked for an increase. The Spectrum Teen Center is seeking $1,250 this year compared to the $1,000 requested last year.
“We are asking for a very small increase to help increase our revenue and to keep our program free of charge,” says Spectrum co-director Heather Rubenstein. “The Spectrum offers a place for local teens to hang out that is safe. Only a small percentage of our budget comes from town appropriations, the largest percentage comes from fundraising, grants and private donations. We appreciate all the support we get from the taxpayers and hope they continue to show their support by approving our appropriations.”
Another local teen organization is not seeking financial assistance through a special article this year. Last year the Junction Teen Center in White River Junction received $1,200 through an approved special article.
“Our service numbers for youth from that area have significantly dropped so it wouldn’t make sense,” said Angie Leduc of Listen Community Services which oversees the Center.
Southeast Vermont Community Action (SEVCA) is the other organization, besides those noted previously, which requested and received funding last year ($2,000) but did not request funds for this year. Calls placed to this organization were not returned in time for deadline.
Pentangle Arts Council, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, has level-funded its special article request. “This year we’re asking for $32,000,” said Administrative Assistant and Volunteer Coordinator Serena Nelson.
Pentangle also has a line item in the town budget of $32,500 this year, up from $31,830 last year. Pentangle also requested nominal amounts from nearby communities such as Bridgewater at $900 to help toward its costs, according to Nelson.
The Norman Williams Public Library has also level funded its special article request at $50,000.
“I would much prefer to have a larger amount for our line item and be off the books for special articles,” said Executive Director Jennifer Belton. She noted that in addition to the special article, the library is projected to receive $136,500 as a line item in the 2014-15 town budget to operate the library. The rest of the library’s more than $450,000 operating budget is raised through grants and fundraising. The line item is slightly higher than last year’s $133,800 budget number.
Belton noted that in the past six months the library has had 8,000 patrons per month.
“If it continues it will be 100,000 people in a year. The library is fast becoming a gathering place for the exchange of books and ideas,” she says noting that 2,472 Woodstock residents are library card holders.
Woodstock voters will get to weigh in on all special articles and the budget during Town Meeting on Saturday, March 1.
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