Barnet voters turned thumbs down to its proposed school budget and thumbs up to support a bond to build a new fire station.

The approximately 140 voting citizens (out of the town & #039;s 1,152 registered voters) who attended town meeting also elected new faces to the school and select boards.

They also decided to table two items regarding expansion of the town garage and the purchase of a strip of adjacent land.

Tuesday & #039;s meeting, which ran more than five hours, roared to a finish with the dramatic defeat of the proposed $3.5 million school budget as a number of voters expressed their frustration - and in some cases, anger - with the increasing costs of special education, tuition, health care and other expenses in the face of the budget & #039;s sound criticism by the Barnet Budget Committee. A $45,000 item for a long-term maintenance fund, stipends for club advisers, even the $1,000 stipend paid to each school board member (up $400 this year) were questioned.

Budget committee members Fred Himes and Dennis Watkins explained they & #039;d struggled with the language of the wording in recommending voters turn the school budget down. "This year was the straw that broke the camel & #039;s back," said Hines. "The school board needs to rethink (its numbers) ... and bring the budget back in line with what people can afford to pay."

"As a school director, I feel it & #039;s my obligation to the community and to the children in this community to give them as good a start as possible without breaking the budget," said a clearly frustrated Chairman Don Wernecke, who pointed out that many of the costs are fixed, such as the 18 percent increase in Blue Cross/Blue Shield. He also noted that though Barnet accounts for less than 15 percent of St. Johnsbury Academy & #039;s student body, a quarter of those on the honor roll there come from Barnet. "This is a school that produces good students," he said.

"Sometimes we give in too easily ... to what we think the state requires," said resident Beth Dugger. "What I would like from the school board is to go back and look at the numbers. It & #039;s a lot of money, even though our kids are worth it."

A few people, including resident Jack Lesnik, applauded the school board & #039;s efforts and urged meeting-goers to pass its budget, though he noted, "Someday we may have to draw the line to either fix our roads or maintain our schools."

The final tally of 76 nos and 57 yeses, was preceded by several paper ballots and voice/standing votes on two budget amendments and a reconsideration of a prior "no" vote.

A New Fire Station

Voters were kinder to the fire department & #039;s $250,000 bond request to pay for a new firehouse, approving it in daylong Australian balloting with a 165-66 vote.

The new three-bay facility, to be built on town property off Bimson Road, is expected to cost $275,000; USDA Rural Development has provided a $25,000 grant. The loan is spread out over a 20-year period.

The Bimson Road property was introduced during town budget discussion, as some voters felt building a new town garage next to the new fire station there was preferable to spending $115,000 from the highway maintenance reserve fund on an addition to the inadequate and aging garage on another piece of town land. After much discussion, voters decided to indefinitely postpone the article; a related article asking voters to purchase a strip of adjacent land (for $5,000) was also tabled.

The town budget of $570,500 (up $1,500 from last year) sailed through unanimously with little discussion.

Carrie Dunbar was elected to Leigh Larocque & #039;s three-year select board seat, defeating Stanley Robinson - who was nominated from the floor and was not present - in a 75-47 paper ballot.

School Director Dave Warden was ousted in favor of Bob Zita for the two-year seat on the school board. Merle Fitzgerald was re-elected to his three-year post unchallenged.

Dave Frechette and Sue Jensen were elected to the budget committee, replacing outgoing members Ted Faris and Jonathan Carpenter. Both beat out Barbara Warden. All other town offices were uncontested.

All other articles, including nonprofit organization appropriations, passed.


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