Town Manager’s Column – February 2018

Stuart A. Hurd, Town Manager

First, I must correct last month’s column. My opening remarks were “I am pleased to tell you the Select Board has finished the budget process. The Board finalized a budget that calls for a $0.0226 increase in the overall tax rate.” Actually, that increase included the Agencies that are placed on the ballot at their requested amounts. The Town’s tax rate will increase just $0.01(0.8%) based on the approved budget placed before the voters. There are 13 agencies seeking an additional $130,100 in funding. If all are approved, the tax rate will increase a total of $0.0227 (1.1%).

Unfortunately, there still seems to be some confusion about the $340,000 Municipal Mitigation Grant the Town declined. The award offer was in error. In truth, the Town was not eligible. By declining the grant, the Town lost no money. We owe nothing to the State. The voter approved bond for $3.2 million, applied for in May, far ahead of this grant opportunity, provided enough funds to retrofit the existing structure and build the salt/sand shed. Once the bond funds are received they must be paid back on a schedule provided by the bond bank. These funds can’t be prepaid.

Those supporting the mayor question on the ballot have lately been indicating that the Mayor’s power to veto any Select Board action can be changed by the Legislature or by simply altering the language after the article passes. According to Senator Dick Sears, the legislative change is highly unlikely. The language can only be amended by another Charter change ballot in the future. I continue to encourage a “No” vote on this article. Let’s look to the hard work of the Charter Review Committee to improve our governance.

The Charter Review Committee Report is being reviewed at regularly scheduled Select Board meetings. To date, the Board has reviewed Sections 1 – 3, Town Officers and Powers of the Select Board and Section 5, Taxation. The Select Board will review Section 4, Town Manager at a future meeting. The Board continues on a path to hold a Charter change vote in early June 2018.The Report is published on the website and available at the Town Offices. I note here that the Select Board has recently undertaken the annual evaluation of the Manager’s performance.

As I write this, the VT Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), has not yet issued its findings on the Saint-Gobain financed study of the area east of the railroad tracks, Phase II so-called. The DEC review should be completed soon. The Town continues to believe that Saint-Gobain is responsible for the PFOA contamination in this area as well. Extending municipal water is the only long-term solution.

The news that the Southern Vermont Storm has found a permanent home just broke. The Town will allow the Storm to use lower Willow field for its home games this year. The Storm has committed to giving back to the Town by investing in improvements to lower Willow to make it a great venue for attending and viewing sporting events. One idea floated is the construction of seating into the hillsides surrounding a portion of the field to create a bowl effect. Together, we see this as a permanent solution to the Storm’s quest for a home.

Remember, if anyone has any questions or suggestions arising from this column or on any town matters, please contact me at 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.