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June 3, 2020 top stories
Rivendell voters
quash budget

ORFORD—The Rivendell Interstate School District board and administrators are headed back to the drawing boards after last week’s budget vote.
The board’s proposed $12,380,070 budget for next year was defeated with 484 votes against to 349 in favor. A record number of voters cast ballots in the 20-year-old district’s first Australian ballot budget vote.
The change in procedure was precipitated by the arrival of COVID-19 just before the district’s scheduled annual district meeting in March, which was postponed and, subsequently, canceled.
Voting this way allowed all registered voters to participate, not just those attending the annual meeting, but it limits discussion and eliminates the chance of amendments.
Instead, the district held two remote information meetings and published a Q&A document on the Rivendell website. In a telephone interview this week, Rivendell Superintendent Barrett Williams said these were “a really important part of the process,” and the district’s efforts to be as transparent as possible and to gain the trust of the Rivendell communities.
Most of the voters cast absentee ballots during the weeks before May 26. Only six voters from Orford and 17 from Fairlee voted in person at the polls that were open at Rivendell Academy that day. Four voters from Vershire cast in-person ballots. The Journal Opinion did not receive West Fairlee’s numbers by press time.
According to the district, approximately 50 people cast in-person ballots.

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Bradford moves
to join ECFiber

BRADFORD—Bradford wants to join ECFiber as the communications union district could continue an expansion process.
On May 28, the Bradford Selectboard unanimously voted to sign a resolution requesting formal membership in the entity. The application will now be taken up by the organization’s full board of directors. The request comes after three neighboring towns recently joined ECFiber.
Last month, the 13-year-old district added Corinth, Fairlee, West Fairlee, and Windsor to its membership. The district expects to complete construction of its high-speed internet network this year in all areas of its founding towns. Chelsea, Vershire, and Thetford are among the district’s other existing members, which now number 26.
As ECFiber has achieved some success during its existence, its model has inpsired the state to encourage other areas to form similiar districts. On town meeting day, Groton and Ryegate joined dozens of other Northeast Kingdom towns in forming a communications union district.
At last week’s selectboard meeting in Bradford, representatives of ECFiber made a presentation to the selectboard.
Chris Recchia is the managing director of ValleyNet, which provides design and operations services for ECFiber. He said the design and planning process takes up to two years, so new members could expect construction of new fiber networks beginning in 2022.
He said they prioritize construction in unserved or underserved parts of town, but eventually every home on the grid would be able to access its service.
Those networks can deliver up to 800 megabits per second symmetrical download and upload speeds. Even ECFiber’s basic plan of $64 per month for 25/25 Mbps would exceed the service available to most Bradford residents.

DOMESTIC BLISS—A male and female cardinal share a morsel found beneath a local feeder. Or are they competing for the morsel? You can never tell with couples.
Motor voters
approve budget

NORTH HAVERHILL—At the 2020 Haverhill Cooperative School District Annual Meeting, residents cast their ballots from their own vehicles. The meeting was held on May 30 at the Haverhill Cooperative Middle School using a drive-through procedure.
Originally scheduled for March, the meeting was postponed until April and then May due to the state’s COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. Because warrant articles relating to the budget and teacher contracts could not wait any longer, the decision was made to hold the meeting using a drive-through procedure.
All the articles, including the $14,568,446 operating budget for 2020-2021, passed.
“It went amazingly well,” SAU-23 Superintendent Laurie Melanson said explaining that Haverhill was one of two percent of New Hampshire districts that were unable to hold their meetings due to the pandemic. The drive-through procedure was used in other districts like Bow which provided Haverhill with examples to follow.
“We learned from them,” she said. “It was a team effort. We worked with HPD who had good suggestions about the layout and how to set up one-way traffic.”
Moderator Jay Holden, the supervisors of the checklist, and Town Clerk Christina Hebert and many others were also instrumental in helping the board conduct the voting.
A virtual public meeting was held the Tuesday before on Zoom and Facebook Live to give voters a chance to make comments or ask question, Melanson said. They also had an opportunity to submit comments in writing up until that Friday.
Still, just 138 people turned out to vote. In past years, attendance at recent annual meetings has ranged from the 80s to above 400. Melanson pointed out that there were no controversial issues or building projects on this year’s warrant which usually engages more residents. The education tax rate under the 2020-2021 budget will go down.

Cell tower draws objections

THETFORD—Dozens of Thetford residents have formed an advocacy group after coming together to oppose a proposed new cell tower just off Route 113. And they hope to convince the company of finding an alternate location for the tower.
Citizens for Responsible Cell Service was formed after a selectboard meeting on May 11. Group members say they are not opposed to expanding cellular coverage, but they are opposed to the proposed location of an AT&T cell tower.
As part of the FirstNet/AT&T network, the proposed 190-foot tower is to be located at 121 Sawnee Bean Road in Thetford. Under state law, most new telecommunications and energy projects are generally exempted from local zoning regulations, although municipalities can provide input to state regulators.
In April, AT&T provided advance notice to the town and abutters that it intended to submit an application to the Vermont Public Utilities Commission to construct the new tower. Although the company has yet to formally file its application with the PUC, it has provided the town with detailed site plans and description of the project.
CRCS members object to the structure which they say will rise above the treeline and be visible from Thetford Center, the recycling center, several scenic miles of Route 113, the Bill Hill recreation area, as well as dozens of houses in Thetford Center and beyond.

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