All About Town – December 27, 2021

ALL ABOUT TOWN

Stuart A. Hurd, Town Manager

I waited a little before writing this column. I wanted to include information on the FY23 budget and agency funding requests which will appear on the ballot. You can find my presentation to the Board and information on the agencies at https://benningtonvt.org/meetings/select-board/. The budget which combines the General, Highway and Fire Funds is proposed at an increase of 3.96%. The most recent month’s inflation is running at 6.8%. I am encouraged that fuel prices have begun to decline. However, as the department heads create their budgets, they are faced with materials cost increases that exceed inflation, some increases in the 20% range. Have you purchased building materials lately? I can say we all worked very hard to keep the budget increases below inflation. Please take a look at the budget. The Select Board begins its work on January 3rd, the first of three potential work sessions where department heads and I will present our proposals for the Board’s consideration. The Board must conclude its work and warn the budget for a vote at its January 24th meeting. The Annual Floor Meeting will take place Monday evening February 28th and the vote on Tuesday March 1st. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

As you must know by now, the Omicron and Delta variants of the COVID virus are causing a surge throughout the State and the country. We are seeing breakthrough infections in those vaccinated but not yet boosted. The word is now, if you are unvaccinated, you will get COVID. The Select Board has passed a resolution strongly recommending that everyone wear a mask, especially indoors or when in crowded gatherings. And I ask please get vaccinated and if you’re vaccinated, get the booster. It is the only way to beat this virus and get back to normal.

The Safety and Equity Taskforce has now adopted a purpose statement and an outline of the composition of the proposed police advisory/oversite committee. It still must adopt a scope of work and develop recommended procedures for this new committee. It has two more meetings in January both are in person meetings at the Bennington Fire Facility, the first on January 6th, the second on January 20th. It must then prepare a report for the Select Board and present it to the Board and the community for review and comment. The Board after a reasonable time for comment will then consider whether to create this committee and determine its purpose and scope.

The Winter Solstice has just passed. The daylight hours will slowly increase as we now move into Winter and toward the Spring. Do you get the feeling that I am perhaps looking forward to quickly?  Although the recent weather patterns have spared us here in southern Vermont, I expect we’ll see snow and cold for a long enough time period that we’ll all be looking forward to Spring.

During these Winter months, the staff will be studying the potential use of the former Benn Hi building. As you know we’re looking at an expanded Senior Center, space for agencies that serve a multi-generational audience, a new larger kitchen and cafeteria for the Meals on Wheels Program and a potential for additional housing units to serve seniors and others. Staff is also exploring a new community playground at Willow Park to replace the current community-built playground now more than 20 years old. We will look to use American Rescue Plan Funds to construct this next season. We have been working hard to maintain the current facility and keep it safe for use. Community input will be sought before any construction takes place.

Remember, if anyone has any questions or suggestions arising from this column or on any town matters, please contact me at 802-442-1037 or stop in at the Town Offices on South Street.

Stuart Hurd is Bennington’s Town Manager.  He writes a monthly column on town issues.