by Gazette Staff
HARDWICK – At its Sept. 21 regular meeting, the Hardwick Select Board got an update on crime rates in town, approved new water rates, and approved a public statement by the Equity Committee.
The Hardwick Police Department (HPD) report was given by Chief Mike Henry, who reported that HPD finally got the flood-damaged cruiser back and returned the loaner to the Vermont State Police.
Henry then shared some quarterly statistics to show crimes year-over-year comparing the period of July to September 2022 to the same period in 2023. This data showed a decrease in crimes. Incidents have gone down as well, with 760 last year for that quarter and 530 incidents in 2023, a decrease of 30 percent.
Board member Elizabeth Dow mentioned that she was asked recently how many officers are on the police force. Henry said that HPD currently employs four officers full-time and three part-time, excluding the chief. This is to provide 24-7 coverage.
Board member Ceilidh Galloway-Kane asked about having a conversation about parking in town. She would like to see a discussion at a future meeting. Board member Shari Cornish said that the planning commission is discussing this and plans to present recommendations. Henry said that he has not had a chance to work on the parking ordinance. Cornish said that he should not have to take on that task alone. There was a brief discussion about forming a task force, but no action was taken.
Next, Business Manager Casey Rowell presented the proposed water and sewer rates for FY24. Water base rates will stay the same and the usage rate will go from $.008 to $.0085. Sewer base rates will increase by about 3% for most users ($14 annually for a residential user). The usage rate will increase from $.013 to $.0135. The board voted unanimously to approve the FY24 water and sewer rates as presented.
Town Manager David Upson reported that he had an initial meeting with the police union representative to start discussions on the next contract. The current contract has a one-year term and will expire on June 30, 2024.
Upson also reported that the boring for the pedestrian bridge will be happening next Tuesday and Wednesday. Work will start on the Daniels side and then move to the Main Street side of the river.
FEMA mitigation representatives visited the wastewater plant to collect information. The town provided information from Aldrich & Elliot about the cost to rebuild the plant where it is, or to relocate it. FEMA will consider how many times the plant has been flooded when it performs its cost-benefit analysis.
Upson noted that the town’s damage inventory has been submitted to FEMA. The bridge in East Hardwick that was damaged by the recent flooding was included in this inventory.
Work on the Fisher Folly Bridge has started. Austin Construction is installing a temporary bridge.
Lastly, Upson reported that the new grader is here. He has investigated three borrowing options for both the loader and the grader. Union Bank offered the most favorable rate. CAT financing was 5.99%, Tax Exempt Leasing was 5.69% and Union Bank offered 5.39%.
Select Board Chair Eric Remick asked how the town can borrow without a town vote. Upson explained that he researched this with two different attorneys and was advised that the select board has the authority to finance highway equipment without voter authorization if the term does not exceed the useful life of the asset. This does not apply to other assets, just highway equipment. The payment for the equipment was approved in the FY24 budget, estimated to be $55,000 annually. Interest rates are a little higher than expected, so the payment will be approximately $57,000. After discussion, the board voted to accept the Union Bank bid and to purchase the loader and grader for $432,000, financed with a ten-year loan with a rate of 5.39%.
Next, the board considered adopting a public statement from the equity committee. The purpose of the statement is to reaffirm the town’s commitment to its initial equity resolution. The statement was read by board member Galloway-Kane: “In light of the incident at a queer poetry event in Lyndonville, the Hardwick Equity Committee and Select Board affirm the right of all artists and performers in our midst to personal safety. We value the contributions of the Queer and BIPOC members of our community. We appeal to our fellow community members to join us in actively working to keep us all safe, thriving, and able to freely contribute our diverse gifts and perspectives to the world without threat. We call on the town and other institution and organizations to bring appropriate resources to bear to ensure that individuals who are being harassed or threatened are safe.” The board voted to approve the statement, with member Danny Hale abstaining.
Town Manager Upson mentioned that a lot of people have been reaching out about the Yellow Barn since construction started. He said he would like to address the misconception that the town is paying for this project. The property was originally purchased with grant funds and a loan from the town’s economic development fund, which will be paid back with interest, and that the financial burden on the town is minimal because the project is almost entirely grant funded. He added that the project will create jobs and bring visitors to town, which benefits the community. Board Chair Remick explained that the town will continue to own the property but has partnered with a non-profit to run it and lease space to tenants. While there won’t be tax revenue, there will be future PILOT (payment in lieu of tax) payments.