GOSHEN - At a crowded annual town meeting Monday night, residents voiced their support for the fire department's eventual purchase of a new $390,000 fire truck.
The 80-plus participants also supported the town portion of the Finance Committee's recommended budget - $979,015, excluding the school budgets, $70,629 less than last year's subtotal - in a unanimous vote.
At press time, the remaining four articles pertaining to Goshen assessments for the elementary, regional middle and high school, and Smith Vocational school, totaling $1,046,550, or $141,133 more than last year, were still being discussed.
There were few dissenting voices in an emotional discussion of why Goshen needs to replace its 1960 pumper truck with a new $390,000 model. Resident George St. Amand testified that he lost his house and all his possessions in a fire. In his mind, the dedicated volunteer firefighters who arrived at 6 a.m., some in slippers, deserve "the Cadillac" of new fire engines.
A new engine could lower homeowner insurance rates in the future, Fire Chief Sue Labrie said.
But in a year of very tight department budgets, the money for the new truck will likely come from a debt exclusion.
Many of the questions raised during ample discussion of line items in the town portion of the budget led to the same finding: The town has no wiggle room, no spare cash, and a debt exclusion of potentially $1 million looms.
Selectmen proposed ending the meeting with a discussion of such an exclusion, which would temporarily raise taxes for the life of the loan. The $1 million would include funds for:
$192,000 for a new fire engine (the $390,000 total price is offset by $198,000 already in the fire vehicle fund);
a new gargabe truck for $65,000;
road resurfacing and reconstruction, $500,000;
a new highway department front-end loader, $125,000; and
comprehensive repairs to and replacement of town office building heating systems, electrical systems, roof and windows - $120,000.
Road repair was a touchy subject during the meeting. The Finance Committee's budget cut $43,000 for highway road improvement. Many residents at the meeting expressed deep concern for the state of the roads they live on or travel on daily. Selectman Joe Dunn seconded the frustration residents feel, but also assured the crowd that money would be found for materials and repairs. It's possible, too, that some state emergency funding may still emerge to help cover the cost of April's storm damage.
Police, fire, and highway services in general were not fully funded as requested by the individual departments in the budget that passed. Alison Jones, Finance Committee member, reminded the meeting that the committee's intent was to allow the town to decide how to disburse limited funds.
"The Finance Committee feels strongly that the stabilization fund shouldn't be touched each year to fund the schools," Jones said.
Selectman Larry Miller added: "If everyone wants more, we'll have to be prepared to pay more taxes." He contends Goshen's average taxes (not tax rate) are still much lower than in surrounding towns.
As Moderator Anthony Thomas noted when the budget discussion concluded, participants lobbed excellent questions at the selectmen and the Finance Committee and made them "squirm." "But," he continued, "they'll get over it."
Other articles that passed included:
- adoption of a volunteer firefighter incentive program; funding for the program will be added to next year's budget;
- an acceptance of the Zoning Committee's one-time only amnesty for currently occupied seasonal dwellings (passed by a two-thirds vote);
- establishment of a new bylaw to require new home construction with monitored alarm systems to install a "knox" box for emergency entry; existing homes with alarm systems would voluntarily participate;
- a transfer of the sum of $30,000 out of the stabilazation fund to pay for a new fire chief's vehicle.
Residents voted down a proposed article to change the annual Town Meeting date to the third Monday in June. Town Meeting will remain on the third Monday in May.