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On July 30, Waitsfield voters will be asked to pass a bond vote for up to $650,000 to be used towards building new town offices on a parcel of land known as the Farm Stand in Waitsfield Village.
While the select board is working on final cost estimates from professional estimator Henry Ericksen for building at the Farm Stand, rehabilitating the former Methodist Church in the village and a historic re-use proposal for that church, The Valley Reporter asked Waitsfield town administrator Valerie Capels to answer a few questions about the upcoming bond vote.
VR: How does the July 30 vote differ from the March Town Meeting vote on the Farm Stand?
Capels: A proposal to bond for up to $1.6 million for a new town office on the Farm Stand was defeated at March Town Meeting by a vote of 229 to 351. The conceptual plan at that time called for a two-story building with approximately 4,000 square feet of space. The conceptual design for the building was later changed do reduce the square footage of the building by about 25 percent and put the entire office on one story, with an unfinished second story to comply with zoning requirements and allow for future expansion. That reduced the cost by about $400,000 and, of course, the town received a $750,000 grant, which reduced the total likely cost to taxpayers to around $500,000.
VR: At the June 10 select board meeting, Joshua Hanford of the Department of Housing and Community Development explained the terms of the $750,000 grant to the town; can you summarize the status of that grant?
Capels: The $750,000 grant was made through a special Community Development Block Grant-Disaster Recovery program established after Tropical Storm Irene. Moving municipal infrastructure out of flood-prone areas is among the eligible activities. It is available on a first-come, first-served basis and once the funds have been expended the program goes away.
At the direction of the select board, the town applied for the grant for either the Farm Stand or the Methodist Church. The same level of information was provided for both sites to the extent possible, and they were both evaluated and considered by department staff and the Community Development Board. The Community Development Board opted to award the grant only for the Farm Stand property for a variety of reasons, one of which was that the Methodist Church option would require displacing three families and a local business. They felt this element was not adequately addressed in the application and that the funds budgeted to comply with the Uniform Relocation Act were underestimated. The town cannot use the grant funds for another site. We would need to forfeit the grant award and reapply. Though we could re-use information from the original application, we would need to go through the full process again. The availability of funds at that time would depend on the point in time of the application, the competitiveness of other applications also in the queue and how much program funding is available. Because the town will have voted twice on a town office bond this year, another bond vote would need to wait until 2014.
VR: When will the final estimates from Ericksen be available to voters and what will they include?
Capels: The select board concurred with the suggestion at their June 24 meeting to hire Henry Erickson, a professional construction estimator, to develop detailed cost estimates for not only the Farm Stand but for the Methodist Church as well to get a clearer sense of how the most current plans compare in costs. A detailed estimate was developed for an earlier conceptual design for the Methodist Church but, like the Farm Stand, that design was changed to reduce costs when the grant application was submitted. More recently, some citizens have suggested other design changes to the Methodist Church to further reduce costs, and the select board wanted to make sure that voters had accurate information to base their decisions on. This third church design option has not yet been presented to town staff or the select board. I expect new estimates for the Farm Stand and both church options will be reviewed by the board next Monday, July 22.
VR: If the bond vote for the town offices passes, what are the immediate next steps that the town takes?
Capels: 1. Proceeding with the environmental review to meet the conditions of the grant award will be a high priority. I do not expect any matters to come up that will prevent the project from going forward, but it does take some time to get through the process.
2. The town will need to satisfy all grant conditions and execute a grant agreement before it can close on the property. The deadline for meeting the conditions is October 15.
3. In the meantime, we could begin the final design process. Only a conceptual plan for the building and site has been developed. I expect design of the new building and site will be a very public process and generate a lot of attention.
4. The project will also need to go through local and state permit processes.
5. A bond application would be submitted in May 2014 and bond funds awarded in June 2014. A bond anticipation line of credit would be secured to cover costs until the bond proceeds became available.
VR: If the town office vote fails, what are the immediate next steps the town will take?
Capels: 1. If a petition for reconsideration was submitted within 30 days of the vote, the select board would need to make provisions for a another Australian ballot vote within 60 days of the submission. To overturn a vote, the vote to reconsider must garner at least two-thirds of the total number of prevailing votes from the original bond vote (17 VSA 2661).
2. If a petition for reconsideration is not submitted, or was submitted and it remained defeated after the second vote, I expect the select board would step back and assess the options. How they choose to proceed may depend on any number of factors. In the meantime, the pressure on the vault and other space will continue to increase.
VR: If the bond vote for the town offices fails, does the town return money to the Community Development Block Grant program and then go to back of line to ask for more money?
Capels: If the bond vote fails, we will not have met one of the conditions of the grant and the grant would be forfeited, unless the funding agency is willing to provide an extension or make some other accommodation. Whether to reapply for an alternative project would depend on a number of factors, including the readiness of the project if it is not the Farm Stand.
VR: Part of the July 30 vote is a second article asking voters to approve a $200,000 loan to extend the municipal water project to Eagles Resort. If the Eagles water loan vote passes, what are the next steps?
Capels: To secure the loan through Rural Development to proceed with the engineering, permitting, bid documents and construction. The goal is to get water to Eagles Resort this year.
VR: If the Eagles water loan vote fails, what is the next step?
Capels: To re-evaluate. There are few if any other sources of financing that would be cost-effective. The organizational structure of Eagles Resort prevents them from being able to borrow, which is one reason the town is pursuing the financing which they will pay back through their fees. If the bond fails, they may have no other option than to drill yet another low-yielding well, which will be costly and is not likely to meet their immediate and long-term needs. Their paying off a 20-year RD loan to extend the water main to provide them with an ample water supply and fire protection would be a far better investment.
Editor's Note – The bond vote for the town offices as well as Eagles Resort takes place by Australian ballot on July 30 and polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Absentee ballots are available now. There will be a pre-meeting about the bond vote on July 29 at Waitsfield Elementary School at 7 p.m. and the Waitsfield Select Board will discuss Ericksen's final estimates at its regular meeting on July 24 at the town offices.