2016 Bristol Town Meeting Preview

BRISTOL — Bristol voters will convene on Monday, Feb. 29, at Holley Hall starting at 7 p.m. for the annual town meeting, followed by the school meeting. Voting by Australian ballot will take place Tuesday, March 1, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., also at Holley Hall.

At Monday night’s meeting, Bristol residents will weigh in on 21 articles, 15 for the town and six for Bristol Elementary School.

Bristol voters are being asked to approve a $2,480,531 in town spending, which represents a 9.95 percent increase in total expenditures from the $2,256,154 approved at last year’s town meeting.

Residents will consider a budget with a whopping 21.67 percent increase in general fund spending — voters will be asked to OK a general fund budget of $938,607, (of which $758,266 is to be raised by taxes) compared to the 2015-2016 budget of $771,424. Town Administrator Therese Kirby explained that the increase is largely due to expenditures on the new Bristol fire station; the first payments on the $3.19 million firehouse bond approved last July are coming due in the 2016-2017 budget. Also included in the 2016-2017 budget are operating costs for the new fire station.

Another factor driving the budget is a 14 percent increase in worker’s compensation premiums for all town employees.

The proposed highway fund budget of $754,789 (of which $652,814 would be raised by taxes), is up 5.71 percent from last year. Kirby attributed most of this increase to replacement of the South Street Bridge, which took place in 2014. Payments on a $300,000 bridge replacement bond, OK’d in March 2012, begin in 2016, Kirby said. She noted that townspeople will be paying the $115,000 cost of replacing the bridge, not the amount originally approved for the bond.

The Arts, Parks and Recreation budget is nearly identical to that approved at last year’s town meeting: $254,758, of which $173,758 would be paid by taxes.

At Monday’s meeting, residents will be asked to advise the selectboard about selling the old Bristol Fire Department building on North Street. Although the discussion will be nonbinding, the selectboard wants to hear opinion on whether they should sell the building or not, and whether they should impose restrictions on the buyer so that the historic structure couldn’t be torn down or the exterior changed.

Residents at Monday night’s meeting will have the opportunity to discuss proposed Bristol Elementary School spending of $5,020,933, though voting on the budget will take place by Australian voting the next day. The spending plan represents a 2.1 percent increase from the 2015-2016 budget of $4,918,334, and would result in per-pupil spending of $14,739, an increase of 1.6 percent. This number is well under the Act 46 threshold for Bristol Elementary of 2.68 percent, meaning that it avoids the Act 46 tax penalty. At press time, homestead tax rates were still up in the air statewide, as the Agency of Education continues to await clarification from legislators on how Act 46 affects the “property dollar equivalent yield” used to calculate the rate.

In addition to voting on the BES budget, Bristol voters on Tuesday will weigh in on the $13,389,914 proposed spending for Mount Abraham Union Middle/High School and the $3,521,263 proposed spending for the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center.

The ballot for town officers features one contested race for a three-year seat on the selectboard: current chair Brian Fox faces challengers Joshua Clark and Ted Lylis.

Those running unopposed for local office this year include Peter Coffey, selectboard, two years; incumbent Jen Stetson Myers, town clerk and town treasurer, one year; Allison Sturtevant, Bristol Elementary School Board, three years; Colleen Bouvier Wedge, BES Board, one year; incumbent Chris Scrodin, BES Board, one year; Sturtevant, Mount Abe school board, three years; incumbent Carol Eldridge, Mount Abe board, three years. There are currently no takers for one Mount Abe school board seat.

People who live in the Bristol Police District (primarily the village) on Town Meeting Day will consider a proposed budget of $415,999, of which $363,049 would be raised by taxes; a special information meeting will be held at Holley Hall on Monday at 6 p.m. The budget represents a roughly 5 percent spending increase from the current year’s $396,220. Kirby noted that the police department budget was also affected by increases in the cost of worker’s compensation and liability insurance.

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