HED Considering First Rate Increase in 13 Years

by Gazette Staff

HARDWICK – At its October 20 regular meeting, the Hardwick Select Board received updates on grants the town has received, discussed challenges with the new parking space lines in town, and heard about Hardwick Electric Department’s plans to ask the Vermont Public Utility Commission (PUC) to approve a rate increase. 

Town Manager David Upson gave the first report of the meeting. Upson said that Hardwick had received a nearly $450,000 award for the wastewater treatment plant improvement project. The total award came from a $197,738 allocation from state ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds and $252,082 from state capital funds. The town also received a grant agreement from the Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative (VOREC) and Upson is working with the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation to finalize the details. The VOREC grant is a $200,000 award to assist with the construction of the pedestrian bridge and the creation of a Gateway Park on the Daniels Road side of the bridge.
Upson also reported that some water meters have not been working. Notices have been sent to approximately 20 residences and businesses to schedule meter inspections. Upson asks anyone who gets a notice to contact the town manager’s office to schedule an inspection as soon as possible.
Upson noted that new parking lines have been painted in the village, but that not all motorists are respecting the new lines. He noted that violators could be ticketed and suggests that anyone who may be confused about where and where not to park should contact him or “one of our friendly police officers.”

Next, Tom Fadden gave the road foreman report. Fadden mentioned feedback from residents about the new parking lines. He then reported that the gravel crusher has come and gone and that the town’s gravel pit is estimated to last one more year.

Truck No. 4 has returned to service, so all of the town’s trucks will be ready for winter. The road crew has been busy hauling gravel and have done work on Bayley Hazen, Dimick Road, Pumpkin Lane, Porter Brook Road, Dutton Road, Atkins Lane, Bunker Hill Road, West Hill, and the Mackville Pond area.
Fadden reported that there was a water line break in the Cooper Brook Drive area and that road crew members were able to locate the issue and fix it.

Interim Police Chief Mike Henry gave the Hardwick Police Department (HPD) report. He shared that he had accepted a letter of resignation from one of the part-time officers, and that Officer Andrew Force has finished his field training and is on his own. Henry said that Force is doing a great job.
Henry also indicated that (HPD) has been using restorative justice for several cases and the department’s use of restorative justice exceeds the guidelines on the topic from the state’s attorney.
HPD has been seeing a significant increase in scams. One of the scams uses the HPD phone number, with the scammer claiming to have a warrant for a person’s arrest. Board vice chair Ceilidh Galloway-Kane asked if there is anything that HPD can do about this. Upson said that the calls can be traced, but many originate outside of the United States. Henry urged residents to be cautious about calls or emails that may be scams.

Henry also reported that thefts of catalytic converters have increased lately. There is tracking for stolen units in state salvage yards, but thefts cannot be tracked as readily outside of Vermont. Mike encourages people to be alert for suspicious activity around cars at night when thieves have been removing the units from underneath vehicles. 

The Hardwick Electric Department (HED) report was presented by HED commissioner Vince O’ Connell, who started by sharing that HED is in the process of reviewing the acquisition of advanced metering infrastructure, which would replace current meters. O’Connell noted that HED has not had a rate increase in 13 years, even though labor costs, power supply costs, and equipment costs have all increased. The HED board is currently reviewing a rate increase, collecting the data that would be submitted to the PUC in support of a rate increase request.

Board vice chair Galloway-Kane asked if there was a sense of how much the rates were going to increase. O’Connell said that he is unsure. He noted that Stowe and Enosburg requested increases of about 13% and 11%, respectively. 

O’Connell also mentioned that the H-11 solar project and Wolcott Hydro are both generating quite a bit of power, but water levels are down, so hydro is not generating as much as they would like to see. HED has entered a wind power contract with an entity in New York state, which could yield more than $1 million in saving for HED over five years.
Next, Heather Carrington of Carrington Community Development Services (CCDS) gave an update on progress to getting Hardwick’s Downtown Designation. Carrington presented draft by-laws for the formation of a Downtown Commission, as well as the resolution for the formal application and a map of the proposed Downtown zone. The board voted to approve the proposed boundaries and then approved the Hardwick Downtown Partnership Bylaws, as well as the Municipal Resolution to Apply for Downtown Designation.
The board also voted to apply for a bylaw modernization grant for the Hardwick Planning Commission (HPC) and authorized the town manager to sign any necessary documents. The HPC would like to apply for a grant to take a broader look at the zoning bylaws. The grant would enable the commission to hire a consultant to work with the zoning administrator and the planning commission to review the bylaws to enable the development of additional housing in the town’s walkable areas.

The board tabled the consideration of a member of the Cannabis Control Commission, opting to wait until more candidates come forward. Interested parties should email or write to the town manager.
The town business manager provided an update on revenues and expenses for the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2023. The presentation showed that the town is on track with the budget as of this time.