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Voters will be asked by Australian ballot at Town Meeting on March 5, 2013, to vote on a $1.6 million bond for a new town office. The need for new town office space has been known for a long time. It has been in Waitsfield’s capital plan since 1990 (more than 20 years) and continually deferred. We are at the point now, this can no longer be deferred. Even if all went smoothly with a bond vote, final design, permitting and construction, a new town office is probably still three years away.
The basement of the library no longer meets the needs of town office functions, where it has been since 1972—more than 40 years. The vault has run out of space to store the town’s vital, historic and land records. Space for day-to-day records storage, supplies and basic operations is increasingly limited. Prior years’ financial and other records are stored off-site in a rented, non-heated storage unit and in the basement of the Wait House. This affects public access and administrative efficiency. Permits are stored in expensive, free-standing fireproof file cabinets, which are nearly at capacity. The town office is not accessible to persons using wheelchairs. The space sustained serious flood damage twice in the last 15 years. The capacity of the septic system is a concern. The library needs more space to meet the changing needs of the community.
The select board formed the Town Office Task Force (TOTF) in 2010 to evaluate the options and present a recommendation to the select board. Funds were budgeted to hire design, engineering and other professional expertise to assist in their feasibility studies. The TOTF carried out an extensive, inclusive public process, looked at several sites in Irasville and Waitsfield Village and ultimately recommended the Farm Stand site for the construction of a new town office.
The majority of the select board’s support for the TOTF’s recommendation to proceed with the Farm Stand site for a new town office should not be seen as disregard for the dozens of citizens who have spoken passionately in favor of renovating the old Methodist Church/Luminosity building for the new town office. We share the desire to see the building restored and continue to be a vital part of the historic village and in many ways agree it would make an interesting town office space.
The fiscal impact to taxpayers is a significant concern—not only the additional $700,000 to $1 million in project cost but the increased costs of maintenance and operation over time and increased loss in property tax revenue. The displacement of the longtime residential and commercial tenants is another significant concern. Also, we believe there are more resources available to the private sector than to the town to achieve the renovation of the building, including the various tax credits available for properties in the Designated Village Center, which could include the rental income from the tenants as part of the project cash flow. The strong expression of community support for renovating the OMC/Luminosity building could be a catalyst for bringing the appropriate partners together to make it happen and the Town could help secure eligible grants.
In addition to meeting the functional needs of a new town office in the foreseeable future, the select board believes the Farm Stand site has many other benefits, such as the opportunity to enhance the public’s use of and access to the Flemer Field community green from Main Street, readily accessible public bathrooms and parking, a high level of energy efficiency, and its close proximity to the Mad River Valley Ambulance Service building, which is Waitsfield’s emergency operations center. The building and site design will need to be addressed very thoughtfully to complement the neighboring uses and communicate a sense of civic pride and community.
The select board will be hosting an informational public meeting on Monday, February 25, at 7 p.m. at the Waitsfield Elementary School on the bond article. A public hearing will also be held on Monday, March 4, at 7 p.m. at the Waitsfield town office to review the proposed CDBG-DR grant application. We urge citizens to attend to obtain current and accurate information and share your thoughts. Copies of reports, preliminary plans, minutes and other information is available at the town office. Information is also posted online at www.waitsfieldvt.us/townoffice.
Waitsfield Select Board: Sal Spinosa, chair; Charlie Hosford, vice-chair; Paul Hartshorn; Bill Parker; and Logan Cooke.