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Here are my responses toa various submissions and an ad for Waitsfield town offices and proposed alternative sites.
“Pick Your Own Town Hall,” 4/4/2013 Valley Reporter:
Regarding stated project costs: Because of additional adjustments made to both the Farm Stand and Methodist Church options after the March vote, the cost figures that are the basis of the petition are different from what was included in the article. The Farm Stand purchase price is $100,000, not $1.6 million. The completed project price, with a new building at the site, would not exceed $1,3million, not $1.6 million. The Methodist Church is appraised at $400,000, its sale price is $450,000, not $500,000. The Methodist Church completed project price is $2.1 million, not $2.6 million.
It is important to note that these estimates, especially the Farm Stand site, are very conservative and the actual cost could be much lower. Both estimates have a 15 percent contingency because construction will likely not occur for another year if the bond vote is approved. Either project would be subject to competitive bids from bonded contractors.
Regarding possible rental income: The Valley Professional Center, Egan’s, and the Historic Waitsfield House properties contain references to rental income as an attribute. Due to control, privacy, security, maintenance and administrative capacity issues, prudent real estate and risk management indicates the town should not rent and/or lease parts of publicly owned and public employee-occupied buildings for private purposes. The objective of the town hall relocation project is to construct larger office space away from the flood zone and not to get into the apartment house management business.
Regarding specific properties that are on the market:
The Valley Professional Center building: Studies have repeatedly shown that Waitsfield citizens want the town office in the Historic Village or Irasville central business district; the Town Plan states it should be in these areas, and there are other good reasons for so doing. Substantial federal disaster relief funds are available (on a first-come first-served competitive basis till the money runs out) to relocate the office.
The grant application would be critically weakened if it cannot show conformance with citizen preferences and the Town Plan. Further, the HUD consolidated plan, adopted by the Vermont Community Development Board, the agency responsible for the Community Development Block Grant program, targets grant funding to existing village and growth centers and away from scattered sites such as the Professional Center. Further, both the Methodist Church and Farm Stand are located within a designated Historic Village Center and therefore subject to priority funding from the state.
In addition, the Town Plan (adopted last October) includes the following policy: “Facilities that require regular access by the general public and are compatible with compact, mixed use development, such as Municipal Offices, Post Offices, community centers and Fire Stations, should be located in Waitsfield Village or Irasville. Facilities that do not require regular access by the general public, such as highway maintenance, or are not compatible with compact, mixed use development, such as solid waste transfer facilities, shall be located in appropriate centralized, nonresidential locations, preferably in the Industrial District or Limited Business District.”
Regarding the Egan’s building: This is a restaurant with a commercial kitchen, as is reflected in the purchase price. Extensive remodeling would be necessary to accommodate public use. This will hopefully be re-opened as a much-needed enjoyable restaurant in the Commercial District. There are other sites for the Town Office, and it is distinctly not in the best long-term interest of our tourism-oriented economy to dismantle and remove what could again be a viable contributor to that economy.
Extensive remodeling would be necessary to convert this restaurant into town offices, including the installation of an elevator. If the Town Clerk’s office were to be located at the upper level, where the main dining space and restrooms are currently located, then the vault would have to be at this level as well. Locating a vault on the second-floor level would require extensive structural modification to the building. Once engineering, permitting, performance bonding and construction clerk expenses are factored in the actual development cost will be between 15 percent and 25 percent more than just the purchase and renovation costs.
As for the Troll Shop: This is a 160-year-old structure with a stone foundation that again would require extensive remodeling. Further, the size of the shop is too small to accommodate the basic Town Office program. The second floor is likely uninhabitable without extensive renovation, including possibly a raised roof and an elevator. A year-round meeting space would likely require renovating both the shop and the barn.
In considering the Historic Waitsfield House: A critical objective of the relocation project is to move out of the flood zone. This building is in the flood zone and, therefore, cannot meet a basic objective of the project. Additionally, the structure is too large and has limited parking space. Collectively, the above four properties noted above should stay on the tax rolls.
For these available properties claims are made regarding completed project costs. For the Farm Stand site and the Methodist Church, extensive analyses have been conducted and cost estimates generated, by experienced professionals in the construction industry. I am not aware of similar analyses conducted for these suggested properties. Public buildings are subject to very particular state and federal standards. The identity and qualifications of the preparer of these claimed completed costs is unknown and the validity of the costs are unsubstantiated.
Regarding the town obtaining a 50-year note: This was not proposed by the town – a citizen at the March 25 select board meeting asked the question if a note of such duration would help finance the project. For this project, 50-year borrowing is not available to municipalities. Per Vermont statutes, Title 24, Sect 1755, 20 years is the maximum number of years for which municipal bonds may be issued in Vermont.
Regarding the letter entitled “Town Hall Madness,” 4/4/2013 Valley Reporter:
In reference to a luxury town hall: The new Town Hall should reflect the level of design and build quality of our time. Materials used and efficiencies obtained should reflect current standards and be able to withstand the test of time. The revised plans for both the Methodist Church and Farm Stand options include a single-floor layout to avoid the need for an elevator. The approximately 3,000 square feet concept for the Farm Stand parcel is only 1,200 to 1,300 square feet larger than the existing Town Office, in the basement of the library. The Methodist Church provides additional space, although not substantially more than the Farm Stand option.
In reference to the Community Development Block Grant: This program has been put in place by our elected representatives for the express purpose of assisting communities recovering from the damaging effects of natural disasters. It is not free money, but rather a program funded by our own tax dollars and can be considered a return on our substantial investment. Those who have trouble accepting such funds should speak to their elected representatives and program administrators, but remember that not everyone would agree with dismissing assistance funded in part by ourselves.
In this case, the funds were earmarked specifically for Vermont’s Washington and Windsor Counties. It is a one-time appropriation that can be spent in Waitsfield, or elsewhere, but it will be spent.
An observation: Accurately informed and actively participating individuals and groups are the strength of democracy and exercise of responsible citizenry. In the quest for the public good, statements which can be considered false, misleading or unfairly inflammatory debase the discussion and do not constructively contribute to the common good. Let’s rise above claims and rhetoric of this nature, focus on the original objective, and tend to the task at hand.
Reilly lives in Waitsfield.