By MADELINE HUGHES
Over 100 Hinesburg voters came out to Champlain Valley Union High School Monday night to vote on the annual town budget. Residents voted from the floor and approved the majority of the items but were wary of a $50,000 ballot item proposed help fix the Vermont Route 116 and Charlotte Road intersection.
“This is the worst idea I’ve ever heard,” Ray Mainer said. He made the point to mention he had been coming to Hinesburg’s Town Meeting for 55 years.
The proposed changes included moving the crosswalk and stop bar closer to the intersection, and allowing traffic from both sides of the intersection to go at the same time. Currently, the light is timed to 13 seconds for each side – those crossing 116 from Charlotte Road, and those crossing 116 from the Lantman’s parking lot. The proposed traffic pattern would allow both sides a combined total 26-second green light.
“I just see a crash happening,” resident Nancy Baker said. She mentioned Hinesburg’s 116 traffic was “negligible” to that of the New York City traffic she used to brave.
“Just calm down a little,” Baker said.
Residents attempted to amend the language multiple times in order to prioritize safety, but voters ultimately voted down the article.
During the “other business” portion of the evening, energy committee chair Chuck Reiss proposed a resolution to combat climate change.
The majority of voters agreed on the essence of the resolution, but disagreed over a line calling for a potential halt to development and expansion of fossil fuel infrastructure in town.
Mainer spoke up and struck that line of the resolution, instead saying that the town of Hinesburg should encourage the state to “restart Vermont Yankee.”
Vermont Yankee was a nuclear power plant located on the Connecticut River in Vernon, Vt. It was closed and had its nuclear reactor removed in January 2015.
Members from the audience did not agree with Mainer’s amendment, instead opting to fine-tune the language. Many people did not agree with the word “halt,” instead residents built consensus around the word “discourage.”
The town settled on the language, “Discourage any new or expanded fossil fuel infrastructure,” and adopted the resolution.
The selectboard will discuss the resolution further at a future meeting, where it can be adopted.
Adopting the budget
Hinesburg voters approved a 2.81 percent increase to the FY20 town budget. The $3.96 million spending plan was approved and includes $3.3 million to be raised by taxes.
While discussing the highway budget, Hinesburg resident Richard Watts asked if there was money allocated in the highway budget for fog lines. Board members answered “yes.”
Another Hinesburg resident asked if the highway budget had sufficient funds for salt. Pouech said the board added $5,000 to the salt budget. Morgante added that the new salt shed, built with the new highway building, is helping to preserve the salt reserve.
As for this year, highway foreman Michael Anthony said, “We’ve gone through a lot, and we’re going to go through more. Winter isn’t over yet.”
While talking about the police budget, one resident noted seemingly large increases to salaries, and the overall police budget.
“I’m actually pleased with what we have maintained,” Koss explained.
There are five full-time officers including Koss, and three part-time officers that equal one full-time officer, he estimated. All of the officers are also trained emergency medical technicians, the selectboard pointed out.
Pouch explained that Hinesburg pays police officers less than many Chittenden County municipalities, and there is no union for the town’s officers. A few years ago, the chief talked to the selectboard about raising the officers’ salaries by more than the rate of inflation, and those raises were included in this year’s budget.
Another person asked about the black SUV the police department owns.
“It doesn’t feel like community policing,” the man said.
Koss replied, “It’s not as undercover as you might think.”
Pouech explained that when the police department asked for the vehicle, he had a similar reaction, but the officers explained it would help catching people who were texting while driving. He added that regarding the search for the new police chief – Koss announced in December that he plans to retire this summer – the board was looking to hire someone with the same focus on community policing.
When asked about town donations to local agencies and organizations, Gary Russell amended the article to include $1,000 for Chittenden Community Action, which did not apply to get on the ballot on time, he said. Voters approved the amendment, adding that $1,000 to the budget. Other residents asked about COTs and STEPs, two other programs that did not apply for the funds this year.
Over 24 percent of Hinesburg voters cast their ballots for local officials Tuesday.
There was a selectboard race for a two-year term between Jeff French and Keith Roberts. French won by a slim 57-vote margin over Roberts, 526-469.
“I’m humbled and grateful,” French said. “We’ve got a lot of stuff to work on, and I’m glad people are giving me the opportunity to do so.”
He explained that in his adventures campaigning and knocking on doors around town, he saw a need for the selectboard to communicate better with residents, and he hopes to do so.
“We need to be explaining regulations to the town in plain English, what does this mean,” he said, mentioning the stormwater regulations and the eminent domain conversation over Lot 15. “Engagement is a big thing I hope to work on.”
Current selectboard member Aaron Kimball was re-elected to a three-year term. He ran unopposed.
There is a long list of items the board has to tackle during his next three years, Kimball explained. He is currently working on the committee to hire a new police chief when Chief Koss steps down this summer. Several water issues regarding stormwater, wastewater treatment and water allocations, will be tackled by the selectboard. The board is also working with the fire and rescue department to determine the next steps for ambulance service in Hinesburg. Currently, St. Michael’s College Rescue covers Hinesburg’s ambulance calls, but the college department is discontinuing service to the municipality this summer.
Hinesburg residents elected six other people to municipal boards this Town Meeting. All ran unopposed.
Ray Mainer was elected to his second term on the Champlain Valley School District Board.
Jeri Belisle was elected to a three-year term as a cemetery trustee. Kristi McLeod was elected to a three-year term as a Peck Estate Trustee. Brian Dunlop, James Jarvis and Marianna Holzer were all elected to three-year terms as library trustees.