story and photos by Doug McClure
WOLCOTT – After a pandemic-long hiatus, the June 2 Wolcott Select Board meeting marked the beginning of a return to in-person meetings. The board previously tried to return to in-person meetings last summer, but increasing cases of COVID-19 put an end to the plan.
This time, the board met in the town offices without a public audience as, according to the state, Wolcott is 81-90% vaccinated. It was noted that past attempts to combine in-person and Zoom meetings resulted in technical problems, but the board has since resolved most of the issues, except for the poor quality of internet service in Wolcott.
A cornerstone of this meeting was the town’s formal beginning of an asset management plan. The initial phase involves the board inspecting the town’s assets and assessing their condition. Tonight’s inspection was of the Old Schoolhouse directly adjacent to the town offices. The structure has been the subject of ongoing but abortive discussions. At one point, a committee was formed to come up with a solution.
The long disused building is in a state of disrepair. It was built in approximately 1855 and formerly educated students through sixth grade. Two select board members said they had attended school there as children, while another had children who went there.
The in-person inspection of the building occupied the first twenty minutes of the meeting. While some parts of the building, mostly at the front, seemed relatively solid, the back floor has buckled. The board was told that some of the issues were introduced years ago by the addition of a kitchen that created a moisture problem.
The board designated member Allen Carpenter as its point person. “The foundation looks like it’s solid,” Carpenter said. “The roof looks like it’s falling off, and I’m not sure about the structure. It looks like it has deteriorated [since the last inspection]. We just don’t know how far.”
Another factor under consideration was materila from other town building renovations that had ended up at the schoolhouse. Chair Linda Martin said a plan was needed to deal with the “inventory,” as “it’s kind of become a dumping ground.” Vice chair Kurt Klein said a lot of what he saw of that inventory did not seem salvageable.
Klein pointed out that some of the work to assess the building had previously been done, most recently in 2016 by Middlebury architect Keefe & Wesner with a grant from the Preservation Trust of Vermont. A list of inventory stored in the building was also compiled at the time.
The architect said that the cost of demolition and building a new structure exceeded the cost of work to rehabilitate the building.
Klein will work on updating the inventory list to try to sort the materials stored inside into things that can be recycled, things that should be preserved, and things that need to go to All Metals Recycling.
The board and Town Clerk Belinda Clegg handled some financial details with the end of the fiscal year fast approaching. Clegg said she was not ready to present a detailed financial picture at this meeting as the town pays a lot of its bills in the first two weeks of June.
One area of concern was the impact of COVID-19 on property taxes. Clegg said “we’ve been doing really good” with receipts of property taxes, with just $80,000 outstanding. One reason for that success, she said, was a large number of home sales in which outstanding property taxes were cleared.
A lingering financial question is exactly how much Wolcott would receive from the American Rescue Plan, and when. The constraints for that funding’s use are also unknown, though indications are that anything directly relating to helping town infrastructure combat climate change would get approved. Town Administrator Randall Szott said the most recent number he had was $249 per resident. Wolcott’s population most recently has hovered around 1,700, which would put the amount of money received at just over $400,000. Szott said the information so far indicated that half of that would come this month and the other half later in the year. The town would have several years to spend the money, so Martin said she wanted to be very careful and not spend anything right away.
The board decided to move ahead with opening the transfer station on Sundays, as it had pre-pandemic. Klein said he believed that with the COVID-19 situation much improved, not having the extra hours on Sunday was hurting revenues and that some residents preferred to visit the transfer station on Sundays. Martin said some people she knew incorporated a trip to the transfer station into their Sunday routines, such as church. Clegg said that at this point, with just Saturdays on the schedule, bins were being picked up that were not completely fillrf up. “You’re still paying the same price to haul it, even if it isn’t full,” she said.
Another factor is that the Department of Corrections (DOC) now has resumed its offender work program. The transfer station has additional assistance already on Saturdays, and the DOC program can augment staffing on Sundays.