Education

Montpelier-Roxbury district merger goes to voters next week

Voting booths at Montpelier City Hall. File photo by John Herrick/VTDigger
Montpelier and Roxbury voters will decide Tuesday whether to combine their school districts, a merger that proponents say will improve educational programming and reduce property tax rates. Montpelier residents also will vote on a tax initiative that advocates say will make their city more business-friendly.

If voters approve the district merger, eventually Roxbury students from grades five through 12 will be bused some 15 miles to Montpelier. Roxbury, with a total of about 85 students, operates only an elementary school and currently pays tuition for students to go to middle and high schools of their choice.

The State Board of Education has endorsed the merger, which would take effect in July 2018.

People in public meetings have questioned whether the distance Roxbury students would travel is a good idea. But most seventh- through 12th-graders already travel farther to attend U-32 in East Montpelier, said Bridget Asay, vice chair of the Montpelier School Board.

Watch online
VTDigger education reporter Tiffany Danitz Pache discusses the Roxbury-Montpelier merger proposal in depth with study committee members on ORCA Media’s “Community Dialogue” series. Watch it here.

“When you chose to live in a place like Roxbury, you have a different attitude to driving and community,” she said. “It’s part of your daily life.”

Michele Braun, Montpelier School Board chair, said creating the merger will also benefit each community’s property tax payers, particularly those in Roxbury. Roxbury’s tax rate will drop 5 percent in each of the first four years after the merger, according to state education board projections.

That, Braun said, is good for school programming. “When property taxes go up, we have to cut the budget,” she said. “When property taxes go down, we don’t have to cut the budget.”

Emails to Roxbury Village School Board Chair Jon Guiffre and Vice Chair Ryan Zajac seeking comment were not returned by deadline Thursday. A receptionist for Roxbury’s district declined to provide their phone numbers.

People from each community will also elect school directors to serve the proposed new district. That ballot item is moot, of course, if the merger fails.

In the Montpelier special meeting, the tax initiative would expand the City Council’s authority to grant temporary tax breaks for owners of commercial and industrial property. City Manager William Fraser said it’s an overdue update to the city code, which was expanded in 2001.

“All we’re asking for at this point is we should have included the commercial personal property tax, and we didn’t,” he said.

The proposed change would let the City Council grant temporary tax relief not just on real property but also on what the city identifies as “commercial personal property,” which is essentially commercial equipment, like a mash tun in a distillery.

Fraser said many cities and towns don’t even tax that property and that the difference makes it hard for Montpelier to compete with them for businesses. “We at least want to be able to stabilize that tax to be more competitive,” he said.

The last item on Montpelier’s special meeting ballot addresses a smaller issue and is merely advisory. It asks a simple question: Should dogs be required to be leashed in Hubbard Park?
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