by Doug McClure
HARDWICK – At the September 16 meeting, the Hardwick Select Board announced that, after two rounds of interviews, it had decided on a hire for the permanent position of town manager. Without offering details about his experience, the board announced it was hiring David Upson, Jr., for the job. Upson later said he was currently working for the Vermont Department of Public Safety. [The Gazette will have a profile of the new town manager next week.]
Meanwhile, current interim town manager Jon Jewett informed the board that the sludge problem in the wastewater treatment plant’s lagoon was far more serious than originally thought. He explained that Hardwick, like many small towns, used lagoons for treatment when it built the plant to reduce construction costs. Jewett said that the original estimate of 120 tons of sludge proved far less than what was now estimated. One lagoon has 678 tons, and another 645 tons. Due to the fact that there are only two locations in the region for sludge disposal, one in Canada and one in Buffalo, N.Y., the cost to get rid of the sludge now would work out to $2.6 million. That amount exceeds the original overall project budget, so Jewett recommended that the town only attempt to upgrade one lagoon now, which would require re-bidding the contract since the current contract is for upgrading both lagoons. He said that the town might also save some money by trucking the sludge itself, with the closest option being the site in Canada.
Jewett said he also would recommend that the board write a letter to the Agency of Natural Resources about options for adding more frequent sludge removal to lagoon-style facilities. Larger towns have plants with the capability of removing it much more quickly.
Select board chair Eric Remick noted that “we’re not really in a position to move forward with the project as laid out.”
The board heard from business manager Casey Rowell on the related subject of proposed water and sewer rates. The sewer rates still account for the wastewater facility, since the project is intended to proceed in the current fiscal year. Rowell said that after reviewing the rates with Jewett and the town clerk, and hearing feedback from low-use customers, the new rate structure would lower the threshold of standard residential usage from 10,000 gallons to 8,000 gallons a year, as well as drop the base rate. The base rate was dropped from $288 a year to $252 a year, with an additional reduction in the overage to $0.008. She said that even for those who did use 10,000 gallons, “you’re still going to be paying a lower rate.”
The sewer rates will increase by about $28 a year for a typical residential user, from $450 to to $478. Overage rates will increase from $0.011 to $0.013. These increases factor in the wastewater treatment plant bond.
Jewett had another recommendation for the board. The board has shifted to a hybrid Zoom and in-person meeting model, but Jewett recommended the board go a step further. With Caledonia County reporting its highest ever case count of 33 the day before the meeting and the state posting upwards of 300, also a record, Jewett said some towns were looking at mandating employees get vaccinated or require employees to get weekly testing.
“I think the town should consider doing that,” Jewett said.
He pointed out that the union was not opposed to the requirement since a large percentage of its members are vaccinated and those not vaccinated could pose a risk to the vaccinated employees.
The board seemed mostly agreeable to adding the discussion to its next meeting, with the exception of Michael Deering, who said, “If [vaccination] proves an unconstitutional mandate, maybe we should wait at least?” Jewett pointed out that the vaccination itself was not mandated, but rather the vaccination or weekly testing.