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Select Board race sees many contenders~ RH 2-15-16

Select Board race sees many contenders
By Dan Colton
Staff Writer | February 15, 2016

PROCTOR — Three Select Board members each face one challenger on Town Meeting Day.
The slate of challengers said they’re running on the collective platform of change and financial reform.
“The three (challengers) who are running, we are all working together,” said Carol Grace, a former selectwoman who was first elected in 1997, served two consecutive terms and was the town’s first female Select Board member. “We’ve all been paying attention, and we just realized there needs to be change. And, being that the three of us have really been paying attention, we all know we’re on the same page.”
Grace, who is launching a campaign against Selectman Bruce Baccei for a three-year term, said she takes issue with the board’s handling of finances. The town leases a Highway Department salt shed for $1,600 a year, an expense that Grace said is frivolous because the town previously allocated funds to construct its own shed.
Stan Wilbur, town manager, said the town has a salt shed fund but some of the money has been used for engineering studies. The fund amounts to $89,026, and Wilbur was able to find documents that traced the fund back as far as Oct. 1, 2007.
Baccei, the incumbent facing Grace, said negativity directed at the board holds the town back.
“It does make (progress) hard where there is a lot of negativity around,” Baccei said. “I would rather see that people … see us on PEG-TV and see we’re working … for the town to make it operate as efficiently as it can.”
After years of zero-funded infrastructure repairs, Baccei said measurable progress has been made as the Select Board proposes a budget with more than a 6 percent increase.
“We’ve got to take care of some of the things — some of the roads, some of the water and sewer lines,” he said.
He said other areas of town have grown, including the Vermont Marble Museum and the introduction of a College of St. Joseph nursing program.
In November, the Select Board proposed an $800,000 bond to move the town’s office into the former Omya lab building and share the space and costs with the CSJ. Voters rejected the proposal 208-50 in a ballot vote, and many skeptics said the board was unprepared and unaccountable.
Jeffrey Durkee, who was appointed to the board last year after Dick Horner abruptly resigned, faces a challenge from Joe Manning. The seat’s term is one year to complete the two-year term Horner began.
Durkee, defending his seat, said he’s concerned with keeping Proctor affordable for families such as his own. A father and coordinator at the Vermont Achievement Center, he’s concerned with shaving down the 6.23 percent budget increase because, he said, Proctor’s taxes keep young families from moving in. Young people are more likely to move out of town, he said, and he says lowering the cost of living would be an effective lure.
“I want to keep that voice in it,” he said in reference to his municipal goals.
Durkee said he still considers himself a novice, and pays close attention to how other board members conduct business.
“I’ve still got a lot to learn,” Durkee said.
His challenger, Manning, said he is qualified to serve on the board because of a background in finance.
“My background and experience, I think, will benefit the town,” Manning said. “I think the biggest issue is keeping the tax rate low. I think it’s being done, but I think more could be done.”
Manning declined to comment further.
Susan Feenick is challenging the board’s chairman for a two-year seat. She has previously served a three-year term.
Feenick, a retired business owner and current Pico employee, said the board isn’t accountable for its actions.
The Select Board recently became aware of a $100,000 or more surplus within its Highway Department. Feenick said the money could have been used for tax reduction if it were discovered earlier.
“They were saying they could not afford to pay to plow the school parking lots anymore,” Feenick said. “They were saying they didn’t have any money and that the School Board was going to have to put their parking lots out to bid.”
Wilbur, Proctor town manager, said the School Board paid the town $2,000 per season to plow the two schools’ parking lots. But the road crew was recently cut from six to three, he said, and the Select Board wasn’t certain the manpower existed to continue the school work. But when the School Board offered an extra $1,000, he said, the board changed its mind and accepted the job.
Feenick takes issue with that, she said.
“It’s all coming out of the taxpayers’ pockets,” Feenick said. “I have been going to a lot of the meetings and watching a lot of them on TV, and there are a lot of questions that get asked. There are no answers, so there seems to be a huge lack of responsibility.”
William Champine, the board’s chairman, is running to retain his seat against Feenick. He’s a retired construction worker and military veteran.
It’s Champine’s third consecutive bid after serving two terms back-to-back. He said the recently discovered surplus money can still be incorporated into the proposed budget, but that some should be saved for emergencies.
“There’s a lot of things I started, and I need more time to take and finish,” Champine said, including installation of water infrastructure around town, a bicycle path and the acquisition of Beaver Pond.
He said claims of the board’s unaccountability and irresponsibility aren’t accurate.
“A lot of these people that complain, I hate to say it, but you have that in every town,” he said. “The main thing is, we try to improve our structure that we have, for piping, water, sewer — the infrastructure hasn’t’ been maintained like it should’ve. It’s something that should’ve been done years ago.”
Voters elect board members on Town Meeting Day, March 1.
dan.colton @rutlandherald.com