Board Sets Long-term Goals at October Retreat

by Elizabeth Dow, Community Journalist

HARDWICK – All five members of the Select Board — Eric Remick, Ceilidh Galloway-Kane, Shari Cornish, Danny Hale, and Elizabeth Dow — met for a warned meeting/retreat at the Public Safety Building on High Street on October 12. The meeting ran from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. David Upson, town manager, Casey Rowell, Town Business Manager, Tom Fadden, Director of Public Works and Fire Chief,  Amanda Fecteau, town payroll administrator, and Tracy Martin, community development coordinator, also attended all or part of the meeting.

The board held the retreat so members could talk at length about long-term goals on a variety of topics — the sort of conversation that regular evening meetings simply don’t have enough time to cover. The minutes of the meeting appear on the town’s website, but the board hopes this article will reach more people than published minutes typically do. 

Housing:  The town owns the seven-acre lot at 40 Carey Road.  Developers have offered to buy it so they can create medium-priced housing on it. However, it has no roads, no water, and no sewer system. Further, the state has classified part of it as a wetland, making sewage an especially sensitive subject. In response to the developer’s offer, however, the town manager has arranged to have it surveyed as soon as possible, which means next June; local surveyors have busy schedules. 

Highways:  The town garage complex on Creamery Road has about come to the end of its useful life. The Quonset hut, a World War II U.S. Army Surplus building put up in 1947, provided the town’s road equipment better protection than the previous garage on Brush Street. By the early 1970s, the equipment had outgrown the Quonset hut, and in 1974 the town built a new garage in the same area. It has served as the main garage for the past half century. The size and power of road maintenance trucks have grown substantially in that time, and today’s trucks almost don’t fit through the doors. Further, the building itself has a lot of structural problems. In sum, the town needs a new town garage. It also needs a new fire station — one that doesn’t sit in the flood zone — and the Hardwick Rescue Squad needs a new headquarters. Over the past 10 years, many have talked about creating a complex that would include all three, but nobody could see how to put it all at the Creamery Road site; it just doesn’t seem to have enough space.

During this conversation, Hale suggested we consider selling the Creamery Road property for potential housing development and use the Carey Road property for public works, fire department, and rescue squad headquarters. The idea has a lot of merits, including the fact that the Creamery Road property has public water, sewer, and established roads. The board decided to apply for a Municipal Planning Grant from the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development to pay for a feasibility study to compare the properties on Carey Road and Creamery Road as sites for a new town garage, fire station, and Rescue Squad headquarters. Martin will write the proposal. 

Capital Planning: Martin talked about the value of creating a capital plan — typically a 5-10 year projection of needs and how to budget for it. A capital plan can help anticipate both the growth expected and the problems that lie ahead — like services for an increased population or repairs or replacement of aging equipment and structures. If anticipating what to expect, planning can be done to address problems before they become prohibitively expensive. Martin pointed out that state and federal agencies have set aside funds to help local governments create capital plans, and encouraged the board to apply to hire an expert to assist with the capital planning process. The board asked Martin to pursue any grants that might help the town hire a consultant to create such a plan. Galloway-Kane observed that an overall capital plan can serve as a tool to communicate to the voters what is happening in the community. It will help create further transparency to let the voters know about projects.

Rowell shared a spreadsheet that she is creating to track maintenance and repairs of each town facility across time. She will fill in information as research reveals it. She wants to get an accurate picture of what work buildings have received and when. She follows that with a projection of what each building will need, when, and the projected costs. She highlights items that need attention in the next five years. The spreadsheet will help the board plan for maintenance of the town’s buildings.  Rowell already does this sort of capital planning for road and fire equipment. 

Town Income: Some years the town receives about as much money in grants as it receives in tax revenues. The board discussed how to show town residents the grant revenues relative to tax monies, so they will understand better how their tax dollars contribute to the actual cost of operating the town. Rowell suggested including a pie chart of Town revenue streams in the annual report. 

Public Works: The system that supplies water to the rate-payers of the Hardwick Water System pumps water from the two wells along Route 15 through a labyrinth of water mains that link to the water mains from the reservoirs on Bridgman Hill. Neither the wells nor the reservoirs supply it all, and using the reservoir and the wells together assures a good supply of water at a consistent water pressure. Fadden reported that the water main from the well under ground along Wolcott Street, under Cooper Brook, up the hill to Main Street and north to the North Main Street bridge dates back to 1940. In the 82 years since then, some leaks have resulted in some patches, but most of the pipe is the original cast iron installed before World War II. 

Fadden urged the board to start thinking about replacing that water main soon. If it were to break, the entire system would be in trouble. The board discussed the logistics and costs of replacing that amount of water main, both of them daunting. Upson suggested a partnership with USDA which can handle a project of this magnitude. 

Summer brings work that other seasons don’t require, mostly mowing of town property, including cemeteries. Hale suggested hiring a seasonal employee to do some of this seasonal work, rather than tie up the regular crew. Upson and Rowell’s research shows that outsourcing the work would cost more than continuing to have a regular employee do it. Upson suggested bidding out mowing the lawns and town cemeteries as a starting point. Ultimately, Hale would like to see some additional crew in the summer for all the summer-only work. 

Cemeteries: The Hardwick Select Board serves as the Cemetery Commission of four of the six major cemeteries in the town: West Hill, Bayley-Hazen, Sanborn, and Center; only Maple Street and Main Street cemeteries have an independent commission. The board has recently become aware of the need for a consistent set of rules, rates, and guidelines for their management and use. Dow and Galloway-Kane volunteered to serve as an ad hoc committee to create a template for policies and procedures to apply to those under select board control. State law requires that the voters would ultimately have to approve the final document.

The town manager’s office gets a lot of requests on cemeteries, so the board asked that Fecteau make a fillable form on the town’s website as a way to request information. Getting consistent information from people seeking assistance will help staff guide the people in the right direction. 

Community Collaboration Council (CCC): Jessie Upson, Kristine Burke, and Barb Delzio are partnering to form the Hardwick Community Collaboration Council pilot program. This program will create a space where community members who want help with a wide range of issues could talk to someone, feel safe, and get guidance about their concerns. Right now, people with serious problems can talk to the police department, AWARE, or a variety of social service providers. However, if people don’t feel they fit into the missions of those organizations, or don’t feel like they have a big enough emergency, or don’t know what’s available, they flounder. The CCC pilot program will compile a list of social service or quasi-social service resources in the community. With that information, the pilot program will develop its own mission and start creating a safe place to offer guidance to community members. 

The Public Safety Building (the former health clinic) could provide space for this program. The discussion among people in the meeting led to a discussion of how the police department, the rescue squad, and a wide range of social services could work together to the benefit of all without overlapping missions and services. 

ARPA Funds: Hardwick received a total of $855,000 from the $350 billion Congress passed in 2021 as part of its effort to keep the American economy and people afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic. The board committed $500,000 toward an upgrade of the 1970s-era Wastewater Treatment Plant that serves Hardwick village, reasoning that the plant serves the entire town by serving most of its schools, churches, and non-agricultural businesses. That left $355,000.  The board then set up a competitive application process, and in July announced that the following organizations would receive the following amounts:  

NEK Broadband received $139,500 to provide high-speed broadband to the under-served rural area of the town. NEKArts received $50,000 toward the external renovation of the Hardwick Town House. Caledonia Grange #9 received $40,000 to make all floors of its meeting hall in East Hardwick accessible to people with handicaps. Civic Standard, a start-up cultural programming organization, received $35,000 in start-up costs. The Jeudevine Library received $35,000 to apply toward the expansion of the library. The Hardwick Conservation Commission received $15,000 to conduct a survey of Hardwick’s natural resources. The Hardwick Food Pantry received $15,000 toward its operating expenses. The Downtown Commission received $10,000 toward a budget for its work after Hardwick village becomes a state Designated Downtown. The Community Collaboration Council received $3,200 to buy the software to organize their collaboration. The Craftsbury Community Care Center received $2,500 to support the renovation of its kitchen.  

The select board expects the recipients of ARPA funds to request the amount allocated and to report on its use like organizations which get town appropriations. 

Annual Report: The select board would also like to see a page in the annual report explaining job descriptions of the select board and other committees within the town to encourage more involvement of citizens of the town. 

Tax Sales: Hardwick holds two warned tax sales per year. Any property in arrears on either its taxes or water and sewer bill goes up for sale.  If nobody at the sale bids on a property, the town buys it.  The owner then has a year and a day to pay the amount due on the property plus costs and fees associated with the tax sale. If the town clerk and treasurer receives no payment in that time, the town owns the property free and clear. The town manager reported that the town has acquired another piece of property. The town doesn’t want to own more property than it needs, and it doesn’t need this piece.  He plans to have it cleaned up, so the town can sell it.  

For questions about tax sales, contact Tonia Chase, Hardwick’s town clerk and treasurer.