AVON – After nearly a century of public service for the town of Avon, Mary and Bruce Dunham both retired at the annual town meeting on Saturday, March 18.
Bruce was unable to attend, but Mary spoke during the town meeting. Mary has served as the town clerk since 1989, the Registrar of Voters since 2002, and the Tax Collector from 2008 to 2021. Bruce has served as the town constable since 1964. In total, the couple served for 93 years, or 128 if each of Mary’s jobs are tallied separately.
State Representative Randall Hall presented Mary with awards from the State Legislature in recognition of the decades of service and commitment that she and Bruce gave to the town of Avon.
Mary opened the town meeting with a brief invocation, something she has performed for many years; she thanked the community and expressed her hopes that the town would continue to grow, thrive, and to care for each other.
Following the business meeting there was a retirement celebration for Bruce and Mary with all residents invited to attend.
Tom Saviello was elected as the moderator for the meeting, and Mary swore him in; following this, Saviello swore in Sabrina Ellis as the new town clerk.
Jane Thorndike was unanimously elected for another three-year term as the first selectperson for Avon.
The majority of the town’s warrant articles were approved with little discussion. However, two articles were brought forward and discussed in detail.
Article 33, to see what the town would raise and appropriate for fire protection services, was questioned. Avon does not have a fire department and instead contracts with the towns of Strong and Phillips for fire protection services. Strong covers approximately three miles of roadway and ten structures; the rate increased to $9,000 several years ago, but the Avon select board has been trying to find out what that rate increased and what options they have to reduce the cost.
A member of the Avon select board reported that the actual costs incurred by the Strong Fire Department for services provided in the last year totaled $1,700, significantly less than the cost charged by the town of Strong. The town of Strong has thus far failed to produce justification for the costs of fire protection services, according to the Avon select board, although they are continuing to discuss the issue.
Phillips Fire uses a population-based formula to determine costs of fire protection for Avon, Sean Allen said. Allen, as well as Phillips Fire Chief James Gould, are Avon residents who serve on the Phillips Fire Department.
Phillips Fire charges Avon around $29 – $30,000 for fire protection services for a large percentage of the town.
The select board is concerned with ensuring adequate fire protection for the whole town, while keeping the costs manageable. As Avon does not have their own fire department, they do not fall under the county-wide mutual aid agreements; Jim Gould said that Phillips Fire and Strong Fire provide mutual aid to each department’s respective coverage area, even if that is a contracted coverage area outside of the municipal limits. For example, Franklin County is responsible for fire protection services in Freeman Township, and contracts those services to the municipal fire departments in Strong and Kingfield. At a recent fire in Freeman Township, Phillips responded to assist Strong under the mutual aid agreements.
After discussion, the town passed the budget for the $38,000 recommended by the select board, which includes the sum requested by Strong. There was also a carryover from the previous year of a little more than $7,000. The select board wants to continue the conversation and may reduce or eliminate the contract with Strong, but felt it responsible to have the funds available in the event that they do need to pay the requested sum.
Article 35, which asked what sum the town would vote to raise and appropriate for an engineer to design a salt shed, also created a lengthy conversation. The select board recommended raising and appropriating $0 for this article.
The state notified the town in the last couple years that they needed to build a salt-sand shed. This shed is estimated to cost $1 million or more due to the restrictions and regulations for an aquifer.
In conversations with the Department of Environmental Protection, the Department of Transportation, and state representatives, the select board learned that the state is considering selling the DOT lot on the Avon Valley Road. This lot includes a salt shed and a four-bay garage.
By statute, the state is required to offer properties to the town first at one-half of the state assessed value. This cost to the town is expected to be considerably less than the $1 million estimate for a new shed and would improve the town’s infrastructure options by allowing space to house a third plow truck, so they could keep an older truck in reserve for back-up.
The town would have to take out a loan to purchase the property, but this year is the last loan repayment on a loan for road paving, so the town could potentially take out a new loan with a similar repayment schedule and have minimal increase in the taxes.
This proposal is still in conversation but the board is hopeful that they will call a special town meeting in the next few months to see if voters would approve the project.
Voters passed the budget for the recommended $0 on engineering plans, and expressed general interest in the new proposal for the DOT lot.
Finally, the select board expressed a desire to have a town committee formed to help with revitalizing the town playground.