SHEFFIELD – It wasn’t until after 5 p.m. when the main issue that drew so many more voters than usual to the annual Town Meeting came up – and voters got a chance to debate how to use the annual payment from First Wind of $520,000.
To start, residents moved to bring their municipal taxes down to zero. That motion was amended to reduce taxes, instead, by about 80 percent, using half of the First Wind payments this year for property tax relief.
The amendment to apply half the First Wind payment to the town and highway budgets passed 50 to 42.
There were four articles related to the First Wind money. The first article asked residents if they wished to put some of the funds toward general fund and highway expenses, and if so, in the second article, by how much. The third question asked if voters wanted to put some of the First Wind payments aside in a savings reserve fund, and the fourth question asked, if yes, by how much.
Moderator Patrick Ham said the first two articles had to do with tax relief. The payments are coming to the town quarterly. Lister Walter Smith said he felt a good share of the money should go toward tax relief, “especially given the state of the economy.”
The state controls 70 percent of the taxes through the school budget, said Smith, who suggested people vote “yes,” on the tax relief, saying, “Frankly, I think you all deserve to have the town’s part of your tax bill go to zero.”
“The total that you have to work with this year will be $495,068.49,” said Town Attorney Richard Saudek, because of the timing of the wind farm coming online.
Jessica Bernier asked if the town was thinking about having no taxes for the next 20 years, saying, “I think we may be in for a rude awakening. I don’t want to pay taxes, either,” she said, but, she said, “Down the road our taxes may be so high that our children can’t afford the property taxes on what we own…I don’t want to set us up for the future where our property values have become so high that we’ve become an attractive place to live because of no taxes.”
Al Robertson said, “I’m for tax relief, too, but I share the concerns and I think considering going where we are today is too high.”
Robertson, about half an hour into the discussion, made an amendment to reduce taxes about 80 percent, using half the First Wind payment.
Residents approved a town budget of $436,986, less than what is coming in from First Wind this year.
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