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Middlebury candidates nearing petition deadline

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January 18, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — Three incumbent Middlebury selectmen confirmed on Monday they intend to seek re-election to new terms in office, while there remains a decided lack of takers for other municipal and school offices that will be up for grabs on Town Meeting Day.

Candidates for local office have until the end of the day on Monday, Jan. 29, to submit signed petitions to get on the election ballot.

Middlebury Selectmen Janelle Ashley, Don Keeler and Bill Perkins announced they will all seek another three years on the board. None of the three faces any competition at this point.

Ashley is finishing out her first term on the board. She has been a quick learner, and believes she can make even more of an impact with the experience she now has under her belt.

“There’s quite a learning curve,” Ashley said. “I feel I now have more of a sense of what’s going on.”

Ashley has had a particular interest in the town’s youth services and has served as the selectboard’s liaison to the Middlebury Recreation Department.

“We need to fine tune the (recreation) budget and make adjustments where we need to so there is not as much of a burden on the taxpayers,” Ashley said.

She also wants to keep an eye on the progress of a new Middlebury teen center that is sharing space with a senior center in the town’s municipal building. Ashley wants the teen center to remain an independent organization, run by boosters, rather than become a program taken over by the town. Middlebury voters at their town meeting will decide whether to spend $30,000 to help pay the salary for a teen center coordinator. Smaller sums are scheduled to be voted by residents in surrounding communities.

“I really want to make sure the town is not put in a position where it is handed a space and the recreation department is asked to run (the teen center),” Ashley said.

Keeler is rounding out his first term after what had been a lengthy hiatus from the board. Keeler had served as a Middlebury selectman during the 1980s, and some of the same issues from that era remain unresolved.

Among them is the quest for an in-town bridge, which continues to be an elusive goal for selectmen. The new span is intended to reduce downtown Middlebury traffic by linking Main Street to Court Street over the Otter Creek, via Cross Street.

Vermont Agency of Transportation Secretary Neale Lunderville said earlier this month that he will give priority to repairs of existing state infrastructure before endorsing any new construction projects like the in-town bridge. But Keeler said Middlebury needs to continue to press the issue at the state and federal levels.

“We need to get some of that traffic off of Main Street,” Keeler said. “If Middlebury is to survive, we need to make it more pedestrian friendly.”

Keeler’s other priorities include making sure the town adequately budgets for needed road and sidewalk improvements; nurturing the new teen center effort; and making Middlebury a more affordable place in which to live.

“I enjoyed my last term very much,” Keeler said. “For the most part, the board worked very well together to reach certain goals. I think we were fiscally responsible and made sure the taxpayers got the best bang for their buck.”

Perkins, meanwhile, is completing his 15th consecutive year on the selectboard. He still enjoys his work on the board and wants to serve another three years.

“I have the time, which is important,” Perkins said. “It gets more time consuming every year.”

His top issues for the next three years include:

• Continuing the fight for a new in-town bridge, while ensuring the town’s roads and sidewalks receive timely repair and maintenance.

• Working to contain property tax increases. Perkins noted that negotiated worker salaries and benefits are a big part of each year’s municipal budget, and he does not begrudge raises for town staff. But he said spiraling health care costs continue to take add heft to the budget each year, forcing the board to look at other areas for cuts.

“We need to constantly exercise fiscal restraint and responsibility,” Perkins said.

• Rejuvenating Middlebury’s downtown to make it an even better place for shoppers. Perkins — a member of Middlebury’s Downtown Improvement District Commission —  believes the downtown could benefit from some new curbs and sidewalks, among other things.

“We have some great shops and few vacancies,” Perkins said. “We just need to have a little ‘facelift.’”

• Encouraging more town debate on “local option taxes.” It’s a mechanism through which Middlebury could offset a portion of its property tax burden by raising, for example, its local sales tax, according to Perkins.

“It offers an opportunity to get some help from out-of-towners,” Perkins said of a local option tax.

He acknowledged that Middlebury residents voted decisively against the concept of local option taxes around 10 years ago. Still, Perkins believes that Middlebury residents may want to revisit the topic, given the mounting tax pressures they are facing.

“I’d like to see us pursue it with the public,” Perkins said.

OTHER OPEN SEATS

Along with the three selectboard positions, Middlebury’s Town Meeting Day election ballot will offer:

• Three three-year terms on the Mary Hogan Elementary School (ID-4) board. The incumbents are Dawn Saunders, Lucy Schumer and James Wright.

• A five-year term on the Ilsley Public Library board of trustees. The current incumbent is Barbara Hooker Blodgett.

• Three vacancies for town auditor. The terms are for one, two and three years.

• A one-year term as town moderator. Gov. James Douglas has held the position for many years, and he has again taken out nomination papers for re-election.

• Two spots on the UD-3 board, which governs Middlebury Union Middle School and Middlebury Union High School. One of those positions — currently occupied by Gina Larrow — calls for a three-year term. The other is the one-year balance of a term recently vacated by incumbent William Schneider.

Two other UD-3 positions will be in play on Town Meeting Day. Bridport incumbent Leonard Barrett’s three-year term expires this year, while the town of Salisbury continues to carry a spot on the board that has been unfilled for the past year.

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