WILMINGTON- The selectboard set the tax rate for fiscal year 2014 last Wednesday night, and discussed future uses of funds collected from the 1% option tax.
The town tax rate saw an increase of just over three cents for fiscal year 2014, increasing to 48.38 cents. Town manager Scott Murphy said that the town had to work hard to keep that number at a reasonable level, and balance the costs that came with town spending after Tropical Storm Irene. “The budget we created through the fall was reasonable,” said Murphy. “When Irene wiped us out we put a lot of things on hold, and it catches up to you the next year. In order to avoid a tsunami of back maintenance costs, this is a small increase we had to do in order to maintain town goals, equipment, and buildings.”
The residential tax rate saw an increase of 0.0085 this year bringing the rate to $1.9841, while nonresidential tax saw an increase from $1.8060 to $1.8493. Murphy said the increases were due in part to the state raise in education tax.
During a special executive session, Alice Herrick was appointed to a three-year term as town zoning administrator. Herrick served in that capacity for six and a half years, until her scheduled reappointment in January was put on hold, the selectboard opting to name her acting zoning administrator instead. Herrick asked for selectboard member Susie Haughwout to recuse herself.
Herrick’s request was based on the status of Haughwout as a fellow town worker, as well as the number of positions Haughwout holds including selectboard member, town clerk, and her status as an ex-officio member of the planning commission. Herrick also said Haughwout would be incapable of objectivity on the matter due to animosity between the administrative and town clerks offices.
Following the executive session, selectboard vice chair Jim Burke moved to appoint Herrick as zoning administrator with a second from selectboard chair Meg Streeter and an approving vote of 4 to 1. Haughwout did not recuse herself, and provided the only dissenting vote.
The delay in appointing Herrick to another three-year term began in January when the Planning Commission recommended against reappointing her to a third term, but rather, named her acting zoning administrator instead. According to Vermont state statutes, the Planning Commission is tasked with nominating the administrative position to the selectboard, which then makes the appointment.
According to Herrick, the Planning Commission made this recommendation based on personal matters rather than on her fulfillment of her statutory duties. Herrick declined to specify what “personal matters” referenced.
In other actions, the selectboard asked for comments from visitors, and heard the concerns of former board member Tom Consolino. He wanted to know if the selectboard was intending to gather public opinion before approving a pending proposal from the Hermitage to buy 55 tax lots owned by the town for expansion of Mount Snow Airport. Consolino pointed out that an airport would affect all residents of Wilmington, and it would be a good idea to include the topic in the future.
Selectboard chair Meg Streeter pointed out that the land in the proposal had been available for seven years, and brought to tax sale as well. Streeter also said it was in the best interest of the town to get that land back on the tax roll.
Without specifying what they would be, Consolino also asked if the selectboard would be putting any conditions on the Hermitage should the sale be approved. Haughwout said that to put post-purchase conditions on the land sale would not be necessary since a new owner would need the necessary permits for any actions, construction, or modifications.
In other business, the selectboard discussed possible uses for the 1% option tax fund, a process the selectboard completes on a quarterly basis, collecting ideas from residents as well as board members. John Gannon and Alice Richter, members of the Wilmington Works advisory board, presented the selectboard with a preliminary idea of using the fund to create a walking tour in the downtown that would feature the town’s historic buildings, and their designs.
Richter pointed out that Wilmington is the only town in the state to feature eight different original architectural designs, and features multiple buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Richter also said that other Vermont towns like Norwich, Windsor, and Manchester have had success creating and implementing walking tours that get people out of their cars and into town buildings.
The walking tour would use pamphlets to lead visitors to each building, while 8-by-10-inch plaques, numbers, and flags would point to their historical or architectural significance. Richter said there are 22 buildings that could possibly be included on the tour, including the Vermont House, Memorial Hall, and the Parmelee and Howe building. “The possibilities are endless,” said Richter. “You could incorporate audio, the historical society, and horse and buggy rides, but the point is we really need something like this for the downtown.”
While Gannon said that the project would need $10,000 from the fund, he told the board that an official request would be made in time for the July 17 selectboard meeting, in which the board will make decisions on allotting funds. Richter pointed out that using the 1% option fund would help businesses that wanted to participate, but might not be able to afford the signage, estimated at $250 per plaque.
Consolino asked if the 22 buildings included in the proposal would include empty buildings in the downtown. Richter said it would, but said their occupancy didn’t necessarily make an impact on their significance as important buildings.
Members of the selectboard also made recommendations for how to spend the fund. Diane Chapman mentioned that for under $1,000, the town could have Wi-Fi installed downtown for a whole year by FairPoint Communications, including free installation. Murphy reminded the board that the town was already committed to the Vermont digital economy program, and would possibly be doubling efforts if Wi-Fi installation were performed.
Haughwout said that it would be a good idea to get a head start with Wi-Fi, regardless of other projects. “If there needs to be some funding to make it happen, can we perhaps start into this as a year project?” asked Haughwout. “Because as technology changes, we may want to make sure we change.” Haughwout said that the town should consider using funds for improving Internet service to rural roads in town that are “underserviced,” as well.
Chapman also suggested using the fund to help make improvements to the historical society, including the construction of a shed to house their larger display items. Adam Grinold suggested the town invest funds in helping businesses improve their facades and signs, while Streeter mentioned that the downtown, as well as Lake Raponda beach, would benefit from more benches.
Haughwout asked if the town could use the funds to improve the crumbling railings on the Route 9 state bridges in the center of town. Murphy informed the board that state officials felt the railings were up to standards, but he intended to ask if the town could gain permission to fix them instead.
The board approved a 100-gallon sewer allocation to applicant Peter Wallace for use at 33 West Main Street, where Wallace intends to open a coffee shop. The selectboard also approved a request to close South Main Street from Route 9 to Beaver Street from 4 to 10 pm on August 3 for the Blueberry Block Festival Party.