Vernon’s Biggest Issue Isn’t Even On Town Meeting Ballot

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(Host) Voters in Vernon met Monday for the first part of their annual town and school meetings. They’ll vote Tuesday by secret ballot on budgets and town officers.

But the biggest issue in town – the prospect of closing Vermont Yankee in 2012 — isn’t on the warning, as VPR’s Susan Keese reports.

(Keese) Vernon School Board Chairman Mike Hebert says he isn’t resigned to seeing Vermont Yankee close  next year when its license expires.

That’s despite last year’s legislative vote not to grant the plant a 20 year extension.

Hebert is also a freshman representative from Vernon. He says he’s filed a bill that would remove the legislature from the process.

(Hebert) " If it were up to the PSB I think it would continue to operate."

(Keese) But he adds that the Vernon schools started preparing for life after Yankee in the late 1990s. That was when the state passed Act 60 in an effort to equalize education spending .

(Hebert) " Most of the moneys that we used to receive from Vermont Yankee went to the state education fund. So we saw a tremendous impact  of losing Vermont Yankee off our grand list and our taxes on the school side went up accordingly."

(Keese) The school board has been putting money into a reserve fund for over a decade to soften the blow to taxpayers when the plant closes.

The town also created an emergency capital reserve fund to offset the impact of losing the plant, which represents half its  tax base.

But the town fund hasn’t grown as originally intended.

(Arsenault) "All opposed, nay? … The ayes have it, you passed article 14."

(Keese) At the Monday night meeting, voters passed  a motion to transfer more than a million dollars into the emergency reserve fund. The money was in a long-unused sewer and water fund.

Voters agreed to use a fraction of the money to offset taxes. Annette Roydon questioned the wisdom of touching the money at all.

(Roydon) " I’m wondering if anyone is remembering that there’s a large elephant in this room…. I mean of all the times to disperse a million point two something dollars when there’s this huge uncertainty sitting over our heads I think is ludicrous."

(Keese) Sheldon Shippee is on the town’s budget oversight committee. He said the money should be in one fund so the town keep track of it and strategize for the inevitable transition .

(Shippee) " If you’re going to double your tax bill it’s a lot easier to have it go up ten percent a year than have it double."

(Keese) Shippee is a  control room operator at the Yankee Plant. A lifelong Vernon resident, he says he and his family will move if the plant closes next year.

For VPR News, I’m Susan Keese

Visit VPR’s Town Meeting Day page for full coverage

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