Taxes, Water, and Sewer Discussed in Marathon Meeting

story and photo by Doug McClure

HARDWICK – The Hardwick Select Board conducted a marathon three-hour meeting on July 15, with residents and others chiming in at the board’s only July select board meeting. The town customarily does not maintain its usual bi-weekly meeting schedule in July as it does for the rest of the year. 

Resident Patrick Kane raised concerns at the July 15 Hardwick Select Board meeting about a recently moved electric panel that he said potentially created a safety issue for the visually impaired, as well as having a negative impact on the visual appeal of the historic village.

A resident brought up the subject of one village building’s main electric panel, which they felt had been moved to a location that appeared to violate Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements and also had a poor visual impact. Patrick Kane pointed out that the building adjacent to the Legion had its giant utility panel placed right on the front of the building when it previously was out of sight. He believed that due to its height and how far it projected out, it could potentially injure a visually impaired person who depended on a cane because its placement would mean that it wouldn’t be detected by that assistive equipment.

He wanted the board to see what he was talking about, so he had printed out color photos of that box. The board reacted with surprise, since no one had really noticed it, and was not happy, but decided that any sort of response to that was not their bailiwick. They suggested he take concerns possibly to the planning commission. Town Manager Jon Jewett said he doubted that Hardwick Electric had any guidelines regarding keeping the historic feel of the village intact when choosing where they placed utility panels, and added that any argument made about access to the panel contradicted the utility’s stated objective of reading meters automatically without needing physical access.

The Hardwick Electric Department gave a brief update of its own. Commissioner Nat Smith gave a more specific report of the utility’s recent acquisition of a large transmission line from Green Mountain Power. He said the utility estimated $150,000 a year in savings. He also explained that the utility’s crews were working on a new feeder line in the village “that will provide significant flexibility if a line goes down.”

Police Chief Aaron Cochran responded to Ceilidh Galloway-Kane’s concern about “reports of vandalism all over,” and in specific at the Main Street Cemetery. Chief Cochran attributed the apparent incidents to “a little more mischief with people out and about,” and asked residents to keep a watchful eye and let police know if, for example, they saw people in the cemetery after hours. He said it did no good for Hardwick Police Department to learn about something after it had happened.

Jewett spoke about delinquent property taxes in his town manager’s report, which prior to the meeting stood at $85,000, he said. The last day to make payments on those property taxes is August 6, after which unpaid bills go to the town’s attorney for tax sale. The 2021 tax sale is set for October 5. The town will make contractual arrangements with people in arrears. Business Manager Casey Rowell said that this year there were “very few” contracts in place for people who were behind on their taxes.

Chair Eric Remick said, “If you haven’t paid your taxes, you should definitely contact the town manager’s office.” 

Jewett added that “Your house won’t go to tax sale if you initiate a contract to pay your taxes up within the next six or eight months, and you continue to pay. If you don’t pay, even with a contract, it’s going to go to tax sale, eventually. But at least it helps to have people come in and talk to us about it.”

Delinquencies on water and sewer continue, but have dropped by about $20,000 to $44,000, Jewett said. Rowell also had news about the FY2022 water and sewer budgets. The town had learned that the sewer bond could not be extended out 30 years, since it was not deemed to be an infrastructure project but instead an equipment project. Therefore, it could not go past 20 years.

The sewer rate for the first year was projected by Rowell to increase from 5.12% to 5.44%, offset by a 4.44% decrease in water, during the first year. Over successive years, both of those rates would “level back down” to more typical numbers for increases. 

Rowell and Jewett had taken a look at the two departments’ budgets, and discovered what Jewett said was a disproportionately high amount of salary costs coming only out of the two budgets. The amount worked out to roughly $78,000 in each. He said in his opinion that those would be more appropriately placed in the town’s general fund. “I can envision years ago, when they decided to make these decisions, they were just saying ‘we need to keep the municipal budget down, let’s just put a little more in water and sewer.’ You have 550 hookups, and you’re expecting those people to pay for all those employees. That’s ridiculous.”

Another town-related number under discussion was the Grand List. Rowell said that the figure was $191 million, a $3.2 million increase over last year’s total, which she said was “really awesome.” According to the town report, the Grand List was expected to total $187.8m.