Hardwick’s New Town Manager Hits the Ground Running

by Doug McClure

HARDWICK – At the October 7 select board meeting, town manager David Upson, Jr. updated the board on ongoing work in process after “a week and four days on the job,”. The board also discussed next year’s paving, and COVID came up twice.

Upson told the board that NEK Community Broadband, the Communications Union District (CUD) Hardwick belongs to, was asking the town about locations the town-owned where it could put broadband equipment. He said he was working with Hardwick’s representative to the CUD, Paul Fixx, to detail possible options. 

He said that it had finally been determined which flavor of contract the USDA wanted for the application for grant support on the pedestrian bridge and that was in process. Upson said that he had been notified by Sen. Bernie Sanders’ office that the $200,000 USDA Rural Development Block Grant for the pedestrian bridge was now “official.” 

A brief discussion around the state’s 2022 completely repaving of Hardwick village centered around whether night work was appropriate. The consensus was that despite the fact that a large number of residents live on South Main, night work was the only viable way to get around the traffic volume and lack of a good way to reroute tractor-trailer traffic during the day. Board member Shari Cornish said day work would be disruptive to businesses.

She said, “It’s a bummer for people who live downtown versus a bummer for everybody and everything. It’s going to be disruption no matter how you cook it.”

Road foreman Tom Fadden envisioned “guys coming out with bats and swinging at the tires” of the paving trucks if night work were approved, but said he expected it might only take a couple of nights to complete on South Main, so it could work.

Cornish updated the board on the downtown commission’s progress and said that a grant had been received for two new sets of fifteen banners. The first set would be a generalized banner with a message along the lines of “Welcome to Hardwick,” and local illustrator Abrah Griggs had been commissioned to do the design work. The second set would be customizable for local organizations. The downtown commission is also studying the boundaries of the current Village Center Designation and discussing a municipal planning grant that would be necessary for the Hardwick to get its Downtown Designation.

Police Chief Aaron Cochran wanted “some guidance” from the board about how the department should handle Halloween. The pre-COVID strategy of corralling trick-or-treaters into the neighborhood adjacent to Atkins Field was not done in 2020 due to COVID gathering concerns, but this year, the landscape has shifted. The Center for an Agricultural Economy wants to do its normal “Trunk or Treat” event. Chief Cochran said “we enjoy doing [Halloween], and the kids and parents really enjoy the safety factor of not having to dodge cars in the street.” Remick said that he believed that if HPD returned to its pre-COVID plans and people felt safe taking their kids trick-or-treating, he saw “no reason to say no.” Board member Elizabeth Dow said things were different now than last year when COVID was “so much of an unknown.”

One COVID-related holdover from last year that was brought up is whether organizations seeking appropriations at town meeting would still be required to get signatures as they had before COVID. The specific COVID-related factors complicating that process are not gone. Carol Boucher addressed the board representing multiple organizations, including NEK Human Services, the NEK Council on Aging, Rural Community Transportation, Umbrella, and the Journey to Recovery Community Center. She said that the organizations were “struggling a lot” with shortages due to COVID, as well as staffing issues, and none had any plans to change the amount they were asking for, but all were having difficulty finding a way to get petitions signed. The board decided to continue last year’s policy of not requiring signatures for appropriations in cases where the organization asking had previously been able to get those signatures and wasn’t asking for more money. New organizations or those asking for more would still need to get signatures.

Business manager Casey Rowell updated the board on the state of the town’s finances. She said most of the revenues and expenses were “on track” in terms of where they should be relative to the budget that voters approved at town meeting. She added that if the Hardwick Police Department could keep its budget tight, as it had in this first quarter of the fiscal year, it might be able to come in enough under budget to offset most of the revenue lost when Greensboro discontinued its policing contract. 

At the previous board meeting, the surprise cost of sludge removal at the wastewater treatment facility had been raised. The cost necessitated rejecting all bids for work on the facility at this night’s meeting and re-bidding with a different scope for sludge removal. Upson said “for the longevity of the facility” it was important to get rid of the sludge in at least one of the lagoons. Board member Michael Deering said that given the high cost of transporting sludge to Canada, the town should possibly investigate alternate solutions such as pyrolysis, which is a thermal treatment process that converts the organic matter in sludge into usable energy.