by Doug McClure
WOLCOTT – The Wolcott Select Board tackled several issues at its meeting, including firearms in town buildings, joining the Lamoille Fibernet Communications Union District (CUD), fuel bids, the tax rate, and a new refrigerator.
Town administrator Randall Szott started his report to the board with an update on the proposed town forest. He said that a natural resources inventory had been done, which turned up seventeen new acres of wetlands, “multiple populations of a rare plant,” four ecologically rare areas, and, in an “exciting” find, “a good spot for a natural swimming hole.”
He filled out some details on how the project could be paid for, as well. The primary strategy now is to leverage the Department of Environmental Control’s (DEC) Wastewater Infrastructure Sponsorship Program (WISPr) funds. WISPr offers towns doing wastewater upgrades a lower financing rate if those towns become fiscal sponsors for another town’s project. Szott said the DEC is meeting with both Burlington and Vergennes, and if that worked out, the sponsorship could cover the cost of land acquisition, as well as some other costs.
He described WISPr as “the ideal route,” but also had a Plan B. A grant from the Vermont Recreational Education Collaborative is in the process of being applied for, and another opportunity from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board is in the works. A landowner asked permission to do soil testing, which if given would help the overall project meet its parameters. He asked the board to think about a special vote or meeting toward the end of September, because “one of the ways to give yourself a better chance [at funding] is to demonstrate wide community support.”
Wolcott’s is trying to find a place for a community leach field for its wastewater project. Thus far, no viable spot has been found for siting it. A possible option, though, would be at the school, and partly where the proposed town forest is. The town will conduct soil tests. Wolcott is also contacting an individual who worked with Westfield, which is doing a similar project. That town purchased land for a forest, was able to get an easement for their wastewater leach field with support from its funding sources.
Szott also addressed the subject of employees carrying personal guns during work hours, an issue raised by board member Kurt Billings. Billings made the proposal, and at this night repeated, “I just had the feeling [it was important], just for the safety of the people in this building.” Alburgh has a policy against employees carrying personal firearms while on the job, Szott said, and thus far no challenge had been made, even though the law is a “little unclear.” The Vermont League of Cities and Towns felt that the situation was “a little murky,” and recommended Wolcott speak to its town attorney about any policy, though the easiest route might be to replicate what Alburgh did. Chair Linda Martin asked if it might be possible to extend that policy to any guns on town property, which Szott said might fall into the board’s purview since the board “has the power to manage public buildings” and take action “for the safety of the employees.” Billings pointed out that the town has done exactly that with its no-smoking policy and said “it’s probably the same.”
Another grant application will be sent out, this one from the Vermont Council on Rural Development (VCRD). Klein said that his read was that this grant would support projects focused on energy efficiency, and serving underserved people in a community. He felt that replacing the lighting around the town office and community garden with solar could serve those ends and benefit the garden which is a town greenspace. The amount the town will ask for is $4,000.
The board officially signed off on joining the Lamoille Fibernet CUD, bonding it to both that and the NEK Community Broadband CUD, since Wolcott straddles the coverage area of both. The board appointed Bruce Wheeler as its representative, and Michael Davidson as the alternate.
Wolcott received three fuel bids that did not exactly align with one another’s specifications. Fred’s Energy, Irving Oil, and Bourne’s Energy all responded with rate schedules for the three types of fuel Wolcott depends on. Szott gave the board a way to “contextualize those prices” after Martin said “their prices are all over the place.” The town used diesel the most last year, consuming 12,800 gallons, followed by fuel oil at 4,325 gallons, and lastly, 900 gallons of propane. Only Irving had a fixed price for diesel, which troubled the board. A major concern was that the town has never used Irving before, and the supplied bid made no mention of additional services that Bourne’s and Fred’s both offer. Irving is also based in New Hampshire and owned by a Canadian company, so it was unclear where its trucks would dispatch from.
Wolcott currently uses Bourne’s, which is a logistical consideration since changing companies requires changing tanks and waiting for a refund on unused propane that Town Clerk Belinda Clegg said could take months. Klein said he was leaning to continuing with Bourne’s but wanted to “do the math.” Board member Richard Lee liked that Bourne’s and Fred’s were “super local” companies.
The listers provided data that allowed Clegg to set the tax rate. Education tax rates went up slightly for non-residents, and stayed the same for residents, she said. That brought the combined homestead rate to $2.4460, and the non-resident rate to $2.4820.
Clegg asked the board to approve a new copier, which would come out of her town clerk’s budget. The board noted “very unprofessional” large black marks on their copies and approved the $100/month lease. Clegg also brought up replacing the refrigerator, which had been donated to the town in 2017 and dated back to 2003. She said that the appliance is not cooling properly, and the freezer wouldn’t freeze. Clegg pointed out that a small refrigerator would work, but she wanted something slightly larger, so that when, for example, the girl scouts were using the offices, they could use the fridge. The board decided to approve up to $700 toward a new fridge.