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Heath OKs green burial, Mohawk budget

HEATH — Pleased with a town spending plan that came in nearly $24,000 below this year’s town spending, with a 20-cent decrease on the town tax rate, annual town meeting voters swiftly approved all spending requests on next year’s $1.9 million fiscal budget, including the town’s FY 2015 Mohawk Trail Regional School District assessment of $776,172. Heath’s vote of approval gives the Mohawk district a weighted majority vote of approval, since six towns have approved the budget, while Buckland voted down its assessment request.

Townspeople also applauded the selectmen’s and Finance Committee’s strategy to commit more “free cash” reserve funds into various town stabilization accounts, to “stabilize” the town’s tax rate, which will be $18.92 per $1,000 valuation as of July 1 and slow the likelihood of tax rate spikes in future years for capital costs, highway or fire vehicles.

A vote to amend the town’s cemetery rules to accommodate “green burials” was unanimously approved without any discussion. When later asked why no one asked questions, Cemetery Commissioners said they thought the swift vote represented townspeople’s awareness of the environment. The new rule allows burial in town cemeteries of the deceased without embalming fluids and without permanent metal vaults to contain the remains. If no vault is used, the body must be buried in either a leakproof shroud or a casket that collapses when the 5-foot-deep hole is filled in, to maintain a level soil surface and prevent accidental puncture of the graves.

The town also accepted a portion of the North Cemetery from the Cemetery Commission, and will use $2,000 from the sales of lots to maintain it, at least for this year.

The town OK’d the borrowing of $35,805 for a new police vehicle.

Upcoming concerns

Much discussion was spent on three articles that were not on the annual town meeting warrant, but were important issues in which the town may not want to wait a year to act on.

The first could be the purchase of a site for a new $3.6 million public safety complex. Because the landowner is looking to sell the land, the town may come back to voters at a special town meeting to discuss both the site and debt-exclusion borrowing for a police/fire/public highway complex.

The second such item may be a debt exclusion vote to “co-sign” for a WiredWest bond bill to bring high-speed broadband to Heath and other “last-mile” rural areas. Financial details were not available in time for annual town meeting.

The final item is to update the town’s general bylaws, to eliminate inconsistencies and comply with state regulations. Moderator Doug Hillman said he wanted the town’s permission to bring such important policies to a special town meeting, and hoped they would get a strong turnout of voters.

(Editor's note: Some information in this story has changed from an earlier edition)

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