Board Considers Sludge, Preliminary Budget

by Doug McClure

HARDWICK – At its November 18 meeting, the Hardwick Select Board heard preliminary budget numbers in the areas of buildings and the police department, as well as an overall summary of what the preliminary picture is looking like for revenues and an estimate of the tax rate. The board also heard from Town Manager David Upson about the status of the wastewater treatment plant.

Planning Commission Chair Dave Gross gave the board the results of the walkability studies done in the past couple of months and Conservation Director Dave Linck filled the board in on the Woodbury Mountain Wilderness Preserve. The board also heard from Upson that the Lamoille Housing Partnership is looking for places to add housing in town with upcoming infrastructure grant funds coming in, and heard about an opportunity to purchase equipment earlier than planned due to a grant.

At the start of the meeting, Upson read a prepared statement that resulted from his meeting with the Buffalo Mountain Co-op in advance of its purchase of the Village Market. 

Upson said “Both the town and the co-op agree to the importance of serving the entire community. Both are committed to maintaining and even enhancing the current experience. They’re working to make sure that there’s equity for all there, and that’s an important issue for them.”

Business manager Casey Rowell said that the fire department and Town House had very few changes to their budget. Board member Shari Cornish added that NEKarts is in the middle of a campaign to raise funds for replacing the fire escapes. She asked why there was no line in the budget for painting. Rowell said that painting is considered a capital expense. Cornish said that NEKarts hopes that the board would consider increasing the capital funding for the Town House because the building needs painting.

Rowell said the police department budget is down $107,351. A good piece of that is the COPS grant, which end on March 31. Vice chair Ceilidh Galloway-Kane asked Chief Aaron Cochran if the coverage was still going to be 24×7 and he said that the primary obstacle is that two officers are on military assignment. 

Chief Cochran said “Our hope would be twenty-four hours [coverage] with the two returning officers.”

The overall preliminary picture anticipated revenues to increase $96,187 to $1,115,095 and the total budget to increase 3% to $3,632,664. The balance between town revenues and the total budgeted amount is funded by property taxes. Rowell said that the property tax increase per $100,000 would “basically” be $20 if the numbers stayed as they look now.

The wastewater treatment plant’s unexpected amount of sludge was discussed. Upson said that he had met with Aldrich + Elliott, PC “for next steps due to the SNAFU with the sludge.” He said that the sludge was being re-measured by the Vermont Rural Water Association, as well as by the town, to determine how much there was. Previously, the measuring had been left to the contractor who would be removing the sludge. Upson said that “the contractor who would make the money to remove the sludge probably shouldn’t be the guy to measure the sludge.” The project will need to be re-bid, but first the amount of sludge must be ascertained. Chair Eric Remick said that another grant opportunity had presented itself for the wastewater plant because part of the lagoon system is considered pre-treatment. 

Gross discussed the results of the walkability studies. The studies were funded by the Agency of Transportation in March and were done “AARP-style.” The first street studied was West Church Street in September, followed a month later by Mill and Main Streets. The studies focused primarily on sidewalk condition or whether sidewalks existed, Gross said. Both West Church and Mill Street were rated as “poor.” While some areas on Mill Street have excellent sidewalks, multiple areas have “questionable or nonexistent” sidewalks. Board member Elizabeth Dow added that the condition of the Mill Street sidewalks is not a recent development and “it was as bad sixty years ago. It isn’t a situation where things deteriorated.” Main Street was rated “fair,” especially on the east side where the shops are. The other side, by the Gazette building, was considered “more challenging.” 

Gross said that after the paving is done in the village year, “it would be nice” if there were some sort of sidewalk improvement. He added that the state is repainting the crosswalks after the paving is complete, but one crosswalk on Mill Street won’t be repainted since it “doesn’t have a landing area” and the town could put in a concrete pad that would remedy that. 

Linck gave the board an overview of the plans for the Woodbury Mountain Wilderness Preserve. First, he summarized his own background, which includes nineteen years with the Vermont Land Trust before joining the Northeast Wilderness Trust (NWT) in February. Linck said that the NWT focuses “exclusively on wildlands conservation,” with a primary goal of setting aside forestland and keeping it in its natural state. The organization hopes to increase the amount of old forest land in the state from three to nine percent He called the Woodbury Mountain Wildness Preserve a “rare opportunity to achieve a lot of forest conservation.” Linck said $4.5 million has been raised so far. The preserve has 69 of its 211 acres in Hardwick. The tax impact would be insignificant since most of the land is already in the state’s Current Use program. The preserve would enroll the entire parcel in that program, but would not harvest any wood since the objective is to allow the preserve to grow into an old forest. Hunting would be allowed with a special permit that sets conditions, including a proscription on trapping. The preserve would allow pedestrian uses, as well as skiing and snowshoeing. There is no plan to cut glades or new trails in the woods, but instead formalize some pre-existing informal trails. 

A potential opportunity to save money on major equipment has come up. The town’s 2009 excavator was slated for replacement in 2024 in the capital fund, but a 25 percent subsidy might be available if the town purchases that equipment now, Rowell said. The excavator’s cost is estimated at between $130,000 and $135,000, which would mean around $45,000 could get reimbursed if the subsidy were approved. Rowell said that the town has funds to make the purchase now but would only move forward if the town could get the 25 percent subsidy.