by Doug McClure
HARDWICK – Residents watching the June 3 select board meeting received a crash course in the mechanics of creating town budgets, courtesy of the board and Interim Town Manager Jon Jewett.
The Recreation Committee went before the board to request that $5,000 of FY2021 funds be moved to its capital fund. Coordinator Jason Bahner explained that due to COVID-19, the committee had not run most of its intended programs and that much of the FY2021 budget would not be spent by the end of the fiscal year on June 30, including roughly $5,000 of maintenance. The committee requested $5,000 from the 2021 budget be carried over for scheduled work that could not be completed during the fiscal year. The FY2022 budget has been fully allocated, Bahner said.
Committee chair Holly Bolio summarized their predicament: “Everything stopped. We were between [recreation] coordinators. Now we’re at the end of the fiscal year and the money [for next fiscal year] is all allocated somewhere.”
Chief among the committee’s concerns was work on the skating rink and smaller projects, such as park benches and fixing up the little-used park on Cottage Street. Bolio said the $5,000 could also be used for matching grants. “Not having matching funds limits our options,” she said.
Hardwick Select Board chair Eric Remick said that while he supported the work of the recreation committee and noted the “big surplus” from FY2021, operating budgets can come in over or under budget. “I don’t know where we’re going to land this year,” he said.
Jewett explained that capital funds differ from operating budgets. “Normally capital money is intended to go for longer-term projects, like putting in a playground or buying some equipment that’s going to last a long time,” he said. He added that in the past money was placed in a capital fund when other purposes were outlined for its use.
After some discussion, the board said while the recreation committee may not have worded it correctly, the funding was mostly targeted in ways that fit into capital budgets. The skating rink needs significant repairs. Bahner suggested that the committee might choose to help the school pay to rehabilitate the Hazen Union tennis courts.
Remick asked business manager Casey Rowell about the status of the town-wide budget; Rowell said it was not likely to go over budget but might come close to 100%. The board approved a reworded request from the recreation committee, with vice chair Ceilidh Galloway-Kane abstaining due to her involvement in the committee.
Hardwick Police Chief Aaron Cochran said the department had started research on its upcoming cruiser order. Two options existed: a Ford Explorer or a Dodge Charger AWD, and “there’s a big difference in price.” The board gave Chief Cochran approval to get the less expensive Charger. In another cost-related matter, Cochran said the state had started migrating onto the same law enforcement reporting system as the towns which, if the state takes over the cost, might result in some savings for Hardwick Police Department (HPD).
Also discussed was contracting for dispatch services with Lamoille County Sheriff’s Department (LCSD). It was discovered that Greensboro was being billed 35% of the two-town dispatch costs by LCSD and Hardwick 65%, which was more than Hardwick billed Greensboro for its patrol services. The LCSD assessed costs based on population as well as the Grand List, and the 24% Greensboro had previously paid Hardwick for policing was based solely on population.
LCSD’s bid was substantially less than other options, Jewett said. With an unknown amount of additional funding coming to the LCSD from the American Rescue Plan, Chief Cochran asked that a letter be included with the bid acceptance requesting LCSD to better integrate its radio services with the HPD radios. He said while the current two-system approach is functional, using additional equipment to enable LCSD and HPD radios to communicate would substantially improve communications.
In reviewing the water budget, Casey Rowell told the board that increases were kept “as minimal as possible.” The overall budget increase is 0.98%, or $3,000. She said increases for the sewer budget will likely be more significant. Remick suggested that, with the current water rate structure in place for the next few years, it might make sense to add one tier below the current bottom rate. He said he knew of cases where an individual living alone was paying about the same as a family with kids.
The board also signed off on the Burn Ordinance modeled after the state’s statute, with fines adjusted to reflect the same amounts. The Forest Fire Warden was named as the primary responder, with HPD serving as secondary.
Chief Cochran said that police officers are not firefighters and not trained to diagnose a situation, and the legalities of when a police officer can enter private property are more stringent than for a firefighter or fire warden. Dispatch will hold lists of sites with burn permits in place, with the ordinance clarifying for first responders whether a burn is legal. The ordinance is now in a statutorily mandated review period for public comments.
In other burning news, Chief Cochran issued a reminder that fireworks can only be legally purchased and used by private citizens with permits, which he said are easy to get from the police or fire departments.
The board also received a review of how the water budget fared for FY2021 and signed off on the construction loan application for the wastewater treatment plant’s Phase III.