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Waitsfield voters will be asked to pass a $650,000 bond vote to build new town offices at the Farm Stand on July 30.
The select board, by unanimous vote, approved board chair Paul Hartshorn’s motion at a June 10 meeting. Hartshorn made the motion after the opportunity to ask questions of a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) director about the $750,000 grant that the town has received to build new town offices.
CDBG director Josh Hanford was present at the meeting to answer questions from the board as they tried to determine whether to propose a bond for the Farm Stand site or the former Methodist Church.
The board applied for a CDBG in April, applying for the grant for both sites. Waitsfield’s Town Office Task Force, after almost three years of work, recommended that the town put forth a bond vote at Town Meeting for $1.6 million for the Farm Stand rather than the church which the task force’s professional estimator said would cost $2.4 million. The bond vote failed, sending the issue back to the select board.
Shortly after Town Meeting the select board received a petition asking the select board to warn a bond vote that asked voters to vote yes or no on the issue of whether new town offices should be built, and then asked voters to select the Farm Stand or church site.
Town attorneys advised that it was impossible to structure the wording of such a bond vote and the select board decided to survey voters on the issue. In the meantime, the town received word that it would receive the CDBG for $750,000 earmarked for the Farm Stand site.
Cost estimates for both sites had been brought down to $1.3 million (Farm Stand) and $2.1 million (church) for the grant application process. Church supporters, prior to this week’s vote, were putting together their own estimate for a reduced cost historic restoration of the church.
At the meeting, Hanford’s answers to questions from the board, church supporters and other members of the public made it clear that the CDBG board has awarded the money for the Farm Stand versus the church for some specific reasons.
Hanford said it was unusual for a town to apply for a grant for either of two sites and said the board felt the church site would have required a significant amount of additional information and that the town and the project would be delayed at least six months by the statutory need to notify current church tenants and begin the federal process of complying with the Uniform Relocation Act (URA). The URA requires advance notification, help with relocation and paying for rent differentials.
Hanford said the CDBG board was also influenced by the fact that the town had an option to purchase the Farm Stand but had no similar legal control of the church.
In response to questioning, Hanford made it clear that Waitsfield could amend its application to support the Farm Stand, but said that meant the town’s award would go back into the CDBG accounts until it reapplied and that there would be other entities competing for that funding. He said that the amount of money the town is/was awarded might change as well.
Board members considered what the proper amount should be for the bond vote. At recent meetings the board has heard that the Farm Stand site building costs could be reduced by several hundred thousand dollars (and they heard the same about the church). With the total projected cost of building on the Farm Stand site ranging from $900,000 to $1.3 million and a grant of $750,000, the board opted for a bond vote requesting up to $650,000 because the project needs to have contingency funds.