Selectboard chair Tom Fitzgerald said the town attorney reviewed the question, and raised “quite a few” issues. “One is, do we do it for any other 501(c)(3)?” Fitzgerald said.
Town Manager Scott Tucker said that the town’s concerns also included liability and insurance, and the proposed relationship between OSEC and the town in regard to the parking lots. “It becomes a decision of the selectboard depending on the actual ‘ask,’” Tucker said. “To include the space as part of the public parking system is a little different than just plowing. It’s also a question of how much liability does the selectboard want to take on.”
“I think the original ‘ask’ was ‘Can you continue plowing for whatever is going on in the building. like school sports or Valley Youth Sports,” said OSEC member Steve Goldfarb. “We hadn’t even thought about town usage, but it has been public parking as far as I can tell, and we thought you could continue plowing as you have been.”
OSEC member Diane Chapman noted that the town has been looking for more parking in the village, and suggested that the school parking would be no different than the parking lot behind the commercial buildings on West Main Street.
“With respect to West Main Street, it’s private property that the town leases, and we plow it,” said board member John Gannon. “If this (former school) was to become part of the town’s parking, we would need a lease to give us legal access.”
“I don’t think we would object to signing a lease,” said Chapman.
“But it’s snowing right now,” said Goldfarb. “What do we do?”
Tucker hinted that the town would continue to plow during the impending storm, but said that a lease would be needed for continued snow clearing. “We just need something that will hold us harmless,” explained Fitzgerald. “We’re trying to pacify the Vermont League of Cities and Towns (the town’s insurance provider). They’re not happy we’re taking this on. So the contract may look like it’s in our favor, but I’m not saying it is.”
Fitzgerald questioned whether the public uses the lot currently, and how much impact a lot at the edge of the village would have in relieving congestion in the village parking areas. “Wilmington Works directs people there for parking,” Gannon said. “It’s not jammed, but it gets used on big weekends when people are looking for a place, and employees in the downtown use it. Also, the fair utilizes that parking, and the town supports the fair.”
“A lot of locals do park there to go to downtown and village activities,” added Wilmington resident Nicki Steel. “It’s mainly locals, because visitors don’t know about it, but it might be a good partnership if you have some additional signage.”
Board member Sarah Fisher said she was concerned that plowing the lot could set a precedent. “I want parking there, but I feel like once we start plowing there, it’s forever,” she said. “There are other businesses and nonprofits we don’t plow for. And there’s parking across the street where the recycling is that’s hardly ever used.”
OSEC member Janet Boyd said plowing was justified because of the substantial public use of the building. “Our (municipal) recreation budget is very modestly funded, and the school is seeing increased adult recreational use,” she said. “Could we view our plowing needs in winter as part of our recreation goals for a healthy community?”
Responding to Fisher’s and other board members’ concern that the town could be called on to provide plowing for other nonprofits, OSEC member Cindy Hayford said there was a critical difference between OSEC and other nonprofits. “We’re running a community center for everyone in the community. Anyone can use the building now, and we hope to have a community kitchen and community hall.”
OSEC member Meg Streeter said the community use includes substantial use of the gym throughout the week. “And people are clamoring for more,” she said.
Board members still appeared hesitant, and Fitzgerald explained that the board was “getting mixed messages about picking up the liability.” But if the town recreation program and Valley Youth Sports were going to be using the facility, “Then I think can justify it,” he said. “We want the place plowed, but we have to play the game with the insurance company.”
The board voted to authorize Tucker to negotiate and sign a lease with OSEC for plowing of the lot.