MANCHESTER – According to town officials, when it’s 12 days until Christmas and temperatures are in the 50s, it’s time to do something about global warming and Manchester is taking an unprecedented step.
On Wednesday, the Select Board voted to approve a budget for 2007 that includes two new budget items, both for $6,145. The first will be a ballot item asking voters to contribute money to offset the carbon dioxide emissions created by the town’s energy use. The second would pay for the town to study and implement ways to reduce energy.
“The Select Board decided just writing a check was not really taking a positive step toward showing a commitment to reducing energy use,” Town Manager Peter Webster said.
On Thursday, Webster said he had spoken with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns to find out if Manchester was trying something new. The league is a nonprofit organization of municipalities whose members include Manchester.
According to Webster, League Executive Director Steven Jeffrey said the town is on the “cutting edge,” because while other towns are paying to offset their energy use, Manchester is the first to propose putting an equal amount toward reducing the amount of energy it produces.
Webster said he had proposed the idea to the Select Board, in part, because he was inspired by the way residents met the “Manchester Challenge.” Like several other towns in Vermont, Manchester in partnership with Efficiency Vermont challenged residents to replace standard bulbs with low-cost energy efficient bulbs. Manchester met its goal of 40,000 bulbs.
Webster worked on the challenge with Thomas Hand, whose family owns Hand Motors in Manchester. Hand now works with Native Energy, a Charlotte company that helps businesses and organizations invest in offset projects.
Most people who use energy, whether heating their homes, driving their cars or turning on their lights, contribute to the creation of carbon dioxide because most energy is produced by burning fossil fuels. Carbon dioxide is commonly believed to be the driving force behind global warming.
Webster said he believed the town, which generates much of its income from tourists coming to Vermont to ski, had a strong interest in doing its part to reduce global warming.
Select Board member Wayne Bell said when Webster approached the board with the idea, its members agreed the town had a responsibility to offset as much of its emissions as possible. Voters will therefore be asked to approve the ballot item as they would a request from the library or Habitat for Humanity.
According to Webster, $6,145 is the amount recommended by Native Energy to offset the 585 tons of carbon dioxide the town produces annually.
But while Native Energy invests the money it receives in clean, renewable energy production facilities such as windmills or family farm methane projects, those projects may be far from Vermont in general and Manchester in particular.
Manchester Select Board vice chairman Michael Kilburn said the appropriation would likely go to Native Energy or a similar company that helps organizations invest money paid to offset energy use.
Therefore, a second line item of $6,145 was added to the town budget.
Bell said two possible uses for the money would be to pay for new, energy-efficient lighting fixtures in the town office’s meeting room or to invest in organic fuels for the town’s vehicles, which currently run on gasoline or diesel.
Bell said a day like Thursday was a reminder of the importance of preventing global warming.
“It’s creepy when you have a day this warm in December. People joke about it; they say you always pay for the good weather somehow. There’s probably a glacier in Albany right now and they’re just blacking out the information about it,” he said.
Voters will have the final say at Town Meeting on March 3. Putting aside $12,000 may be easier for voters because the proposed municipal budget is down about 1.4 percent from last year.
Webster said lowering the budget from this year’s was relatively easy even with rising salaries and health insurance. At Town Meeting, voters approved an appropriation of $150,000 to be used to oppose a proposed wind farm on Little Equinox. While developer Harley Lee, president of Endless Energy, said at the time he planned to move forward with the project, no applications have been filed with the Vermont Public Service Board.
The proposed budget for 2007 calls for about $6.2 million in expenditures and anticipates about $4.2 million in revenue, leaving about $2 million to be raised by property taxes.
The drop from income from property taxes over the current year is about $32,000. Municipal taxes only accounted for about 20 percent of the property tax bill Manchester residents paid this year, with the rest going toward school taxes.
By Patrick McArdle, Herald staff
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