News, Plainfield

Town Meeting Scheduled with Worrisome Budget Increase

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PLAINFIELD — Town Meeting has finally been scheduled for Wednesday, May 22, at 5:30 p.m., by the select board at their special April 11 meeting.

The delay was caused by the lack of an auditor to sign off on the town’s 2023 financial statements.

The select board had signed off on the budget in time for a March 5 town meeting, but Bram Towbin, who was elected clerk and treasurer at that March 5 meeting, reported to The Barre-Montpelier Times Argus that he wanted to fill in some missing budget items and had additional expenses he wanted funded to help him transition into the roles as he replaces Robin Miller, who did not seek reelection as clerk and treasurer.

In an April 13 posting to the Plainfield People group on Facebook, Towbin, writing to the people of Plainfield, said, “Thank you for your patience while we work through a lot of complications and difficulties.   

“Confusion about the budget . . . stems from town figures being in disarray according to that post by Towbin, who added, “I have no interest in pointing fingers but [it] has taken more time than I expected to manage basic things like simply finding documents. I’ve spent the last number of weeks reviewing a spreadsheet that I assumed – but should not have assumed – matched what was in last year’s town report. Live and learn. We are now trying to figure out the discrepancy and I want to thank Charlie Cogbill for pointing out the problem.

“. . . In the budget process the select board was under the impression that increases would be modest. We were all basing our calculation on the wrong document – everyone in town government is aware of the increasing pressure on the taxpayer,” wrote Towbin.

He also said that the town is out of time to present a budget at an appropriately scheduled meeting so that funds are available to operate when the new budget year begins on July 1.

“Budget increases are upsetting,” wrote Towbin. “I agree with everyone on this. But this is the moment for more people to be active in decision making. And I’d like to invite more people to be involved and really dig into the issues rather than learn just a little bit and get very upset about it after the fact.”

He expects audited 2023 figures to be available “in time for everyone to assess the situation” and regrets the budget increased, but suggests that it “can be adjusted and probably will be during the floor meeting.”

One big item up for consideration at town meeting will come at the end, when residents are asked to consider increasing the number of select board members to five from the current number of three.

The $1.489,936.86 budget for the year ending June 30, 2025 was finalized at the April 4 special select board meeting and is the big financial item up for consideration. It’s an increase of $266,464.96, or 21% over the current budget. That amount will pay for administrative operations along with the Fire and Rescue and Highway Departments.

Rate payers will be asked to cover the Water and Wastewater Department budgets of $282,865 and $397,670 after the amounts are approved at town meeting.

A Cutler Memorial Library appropriation of $50,000 will pay for the librarian, a library assistant and the purchase of materials and services, including those to make the library accessible to the community.

Seventeen nonprofit organizations have requested appropriations of $14,650.

Rural Community Transportation is asking for $6,833.06 to provide rides for town residents.

The cost of the Route 2 commuter bus service into Montpelier is shared by other towns, the state and federal government. Plainfield’s share is $1,499.94 for 2024.

Other issues are facing the town. “We have serious structural problems that need to be addressed,” wrote Towbin. “One of many is that we need to re-think the model of volunteer government. It’s wonderful to have these people who have been willing to step up, but that number dwindles every year because the burdens are so large and getting larger. People don’t want to volunteer. It’s not a complaint, but an observation.   

“People are stressed and their lives are already filled with paperwork – why take on more for virtually no pay?    So how do we move forward as a functioning municipality when the model from the past is no longer working?”

Paul Fixx is editor of The Hardwick Gazette and lives in Hardwick.

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