“Pipes puffing, feet wiggling, mouths waggling … a rare time of young and old, eager and tired, all come together for as many purposes as there are people.” … Town meeting is “one remaining thing untouched by time — it reminds us of the way things used to be.”
— Carol Johnson Collins, longtime Duxbury resident
Just over 100 of Duxbury’s 1,091 registered voters showed up at Crossett Brook Middle School for keen discussion and neighborly banter on March 6, Town Meeting Day.
Resident Carol Johnson Collins read from a poem she wrote in 1972, beginning town meeting with a look back before voters moved forward.
The first article on the agenda ended an 80-year tradition. After 17 years as town moderator, Mark Morse didn't run for re-election. A Morse has held the position for 80 consecutive years, Morse said — his cousin before him, and his father’s brother before that, with more than 30 years moderating apiece.
The family was one of the first living in Duxbury, in the 1780s, Morse said.
Morse thanked residents for their patience, support and participation: “It’s really your meeting, so we need to accomplish what you want to accomplish today.”
He emphasized that he won’t be running for any other town office, as he’s served in many of them in the past.
“It’s time for new blood,” he said.
Candidates nominated were Dan Senning, a lifelong Pollander Road resident and 1995 Harwood Union High School graduate, and Brian Fitzgerald, a Duxbury resident since 1990 who served nine years on the planning commission, eight as chair.
In the lull as residents circled the ballot box, select board member Erin Lander presented tokens of thanks from the board — shamrock plants for Town Clerk Maureen Harvey and Treasurer Anne Wilson, and framed photographs of Camel’s Hump for Morse, for Alan Quackenbush for his work on the new town forest, and for Brian Fitzgerald for his time spent on updating the town’s zoning regulations.
One hundred and seven ballots were cast; Fitzgerald received 42 votes, Senning 65.
A few minutes went by as Morse and Senning huddled over notes, and with that, the torch was passed.
“There’s no time like the present,” Senning quipped as he stepped up to the podium.
“I’m actually terrified!” he said.
All five seats on the select board were open this year, with two terms expiring and three board members resigning — Stacy Grandfield-Gibson, who announced her intent to resign in December but agreed to stay on through Town Meeting Day; plus Amy Scharf and Steffan DeFeo, who resigned earlier and were replaced by appointees Lars Dickson and Jerry McMahon, respectively.
Gibson-Grandfield became chair just six months after her election to the board. The post required “patience, an empathetic ear, and time,” she said, and while she was encouraged by the increased sense of organization around the town’s infrastructure, she was shocked by the time and effort required, especially with the “firehose” of road issues following flooding in the summer of 2017.
State and FEMA grants of $1.2 million will cover most of the repairs (accounting for nearly all of the substantial jump from Duxbury’s 2018 budget of $930,338 to $2.26 million in fiscal 2019), but getting those grants and organizing projects takes up a substantial portion of the select board and highway department’s time, board members said.
The board therefore recommended a new town position of select board assistant be created.
The part-time employee, paid $25,000 per year, would help with grants, attend state and regional meetings, deal with permits and stormwater regulation, and provide administrative support to the select board and other town employees — plus continuity and stability, as town officials can change from year to year.
The potential new job prompted a good amount of discussion, as residents questioned whether it was necessary, how it would affect the pay of other town officials, and where the board might find this person, well-versed in government planning and grants and public relations, for a part-time rate.
“It’s a dream scenario,” select board member Erin Lander said. “It won’t be easy,” but she believes the position can be filled, and will ultimately be sustainable for the town’s bottom line. “
“This tradition, this means of government is dependent on volunteers serving however long they can,” Dickson said, and if volunteers are pressured by endless meetings and wading through changing regulations, the tradition will dwindle.
What does it mean to be on the select board, a resident asked?
It requires attending meetings, collaborating with the town clerk and treasurer, planning projects, fielding complaints, attending workshops, plus working with the highway department, state representatives, other towns with shared resources and more, Gibson-Grandfield explained.
It’s also one of the reasons Lander moved to Vermont — “it’s a direct relationship with the government, and we can build the kind of community we want to build,” she said. “You’re really an advocate for your neighbors, and that’s a pretty special opportunity.
“While it is a lot of work, there’s a lot of reward to it, and you’re not on your own.”
The one-year terms of Tamatha Thomas-Haase and Lander were up: Thomas-Haase was re-elected without opposition to a three-year term, and Lander to a 2-year term.
McMahon was re-elected to a 1-year term, joined by newcomers Mari Pratt and Bob Magee.
Dickson, who declined several nominations to rejoin the select board, said he saw himself in the same role as the “compact spare (tire) of a Toyota.”
“It’ll get you home, and you might be able to pick up some things on the way, but handling will be affected, and it should be considered a temporary measure,” he said.
He did later accept a nomination for a five-year term on the budget committee and was elected unanimously, replacing Bonnie Morse.
Roads and stuff
Two articles that drew much discussion but little opposition involved setting up a reserve fund to cover unanticipated revenue shortfalls and general and highway expenses.
There’s currently a surplus of $423,816, mostly left over from grants received in previous years when the projects had already been paid from town funds, Gibson-Grandfield said.
She said there are more stringent regulations on state and federal grants now, but often the timing doesn’t sync with the project it’s intended for, and the town must pay a contractor before the grant money actually arrives.
The fund, which will not exceed 50 percent of the general and highway fund budget, could be used for unforeseen expenses — a road washed out by heavy spring rain, for example — without having to ask voters for specific allocations or applying for a loan, and could help keep the tax rate down.
“We don’t know what’s coming in the spring, summer or fall,” Gibson-Grandfield said. “We do what we have to do for infrastructure, then go get grants.”
Gibson-Grandfield said the policy was based on recommendations from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, and she didn’t think the new select board members would change it.
“The goal is to increase transparency,” Wilson said.
Nearly all assembled approved the $155,000 purchase of a new tandem truck, but not until after a hearty discussion on the merits of International brand vehicles versus Freightliner.
“You’re essentially buying the cab and nose,” road foreman Adam Magee said; after that, parts are often interchangeable, and regular service is always necessary.
Duxbury’s hills and roads are tough, and Maurice LaVanway noted that a state worker was shocked during a ride-along with the town crew at how hard the trucks had to work in Duxbury, especially because they haul a lot of gravel.
The town voted to trade its 2009 International for a new model, knocking $18,000 in projected maintenance costs off the budget and adding $3,500 for the new truck’s needs. The triple-axled vehicle will join a pair of Freightliners, née 2016 and 2014, getting the town on a seven-year cycle to ensure that the vehicles will remain under warranty for their entire use in Duxbury.
The meeting broke for lunch at precisely noon, and proceeds from the $5-per-person potluck — a bounteous spread of macaroni and meatballs, kielbasa and sauerkraut, salads, chili, cornbread and doughnuts served with pools of maple syrup — will benefit the Duxbury Historical Society’s building fund.
Hunger sated, about 80 residents returned to vote on the town budget. Line items discussed included a $6,000 increase for signs (recommended by the select board in anticipation of construction and traffic rerouting), and money donated to nonprofits.
Ultimately, the truck purchase was the only amendment to the budget: a total of $2,249,371 was approved, with $794,671 to be raised by taxes. The select board will set the tax rate after the grand list is finalized.
Town, school elections
Re-elected without opposition: Maurice LaVanway, lister, three years; Erin Campos, cemetery commission (with a comment that the daffodils at the cemetery, which bloomed for the second time last year, were lovely), three years; Nathan Isham, first constable, one year; Rachel Bolduc, both delinquent tax collector and second constable (as the collector needs to be able to write warrants), one-year terms); Gloria Rapalee, agent to prosecute and defend suits and grand juror, one year.
New people elected to offices: Max Popowicz, lister, three years; Emmett Hughlett, auditor, three years; Carmel Kelley, auditor, two years.
Elected by Australian ballot: Torrey Smith, Harwood Unified Union School Director, 191 out of 220 votes; she joins Garett MacCurtain on the board.