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This Tuesday, voters will have the opportunity to approve a bond to build and relocate the Waitsfield town office. I am writing not as a Town Office Task Force member but as the town clerk and a taxpayer. Most people come into the town office for five minutes at a time to pay taxes, vote early or register their dog, etc. I wish I could invite everyone to the office at the moment two or more lawyers have land record books covering the conference table while there are people in line to pay taxes and a meeting occurring at the same time. I would ask everyone to come in and take a tour of the ridiculously small vault that, by state statute, should contain all the town’s permanent records, including those in filing cabinets and boxes outside the vault. I would invite anyone in a wheelchair to come in and try to look up his/her deed in the vault or use the “public” bathroom; however, neither can accommodate a wheelchair. I wish all voters had seen the town office after Tropical Storm Irene made a path through the office. The current town office is inadequate and records are vulnerable in so many ways.
The Town Office Task Force met for two and a half years, held several public meetings, visited and revisited many properties for consideration of a new facility. Individuals interested in saving the old Methodist church requested further consideration of that building, and the Task Force expended considerable resources to research the property. Ultimately, after great consideration and much input, the task force recommended to the select board that the better, more fiscally responsible property for a town office was the Flemer Farm Stand.
With some disappointed that the task force did not recommend the old Methodist church to the select board and that the select board agreed to let the voters decide if we should build on the Farm Stand site, there may be an impulse to discourage voters from supporting the Farm Stand option. Rather than sabotaging a wonderful opportunity, I’d prefer to see this energy poured into the creation of a “Friends of the Methodist church” committee to rally folks and possibly a private investor to purchase the Methodist church and renovate it.
Additionally, these things need to be considered:
The attachment and emotion so many people feel toward the church that has been brought to the surface is a good thing. It’s a valid ambition to have this building revived but not on taxpayer money.
If you are a resident of Waitsfield, chances are you have land records and/or vital records (birth, death and marriage certificates) in the town office vault. We’ve already flooded twice within the last 15 years, once through the doors and once through a window that faces Main Street, and the water came dangerously close to the vault both times. Pulling the historic books from the vault and bringing them upstairs to the library may save them from floodwaters, but it also makes them vulnerable to fire. Do we need to learn from our neighbors in Moretown whose vault was several feet under water how costly it is to try to save flooded records? Please don’t wait for the next flood to make it a priority. Vote yes for the bond vote at Tuesday’s Town Meeting.
Jennifer Peterson lives in Waitsfield.