During their regular meeting, the board agreed to hold a special Town Meeting at 7 pm on Tuesday, October 24 to vote on changes to the town’s traffic ordinance. The changes, originally made by a decision of the selectboard, would prohibit overnight parking in two village municipal lots during winter months. Wilmington resident Jack Dolan, citing concern about residents and employees in the village, circulated a petition calling for a public vote on the changes.
In other matters during the regular meeting, John Gannon suggested the board hold a future discussion to consider a policy that would deny liquor licenses to businesses that are delinquent in their taxes. “I’m concerned about the fact that the Hermitage didn’t pay their taxes (August installment),” Gannon said. “I did some quick research on what towns can do in respect to that, and noticed Brattleboro requires all water, sewer, and property taxes to be current as of the date of application.”
Board member Ann Manwaring cautioned that such a rule could impact a business’s ability to raise the money they need to pay their taxes. “I think we should not have a knee-jerk policy change,” she said.
Selectboard chair Tom Fitzgerald said that the town needs to have some leverage in collecting taxes. “Maybe we just need to do it,” he said. “I don’t want to be sitting here on June 30, just hoping to God the taxes are going to be paid.”
Board member Sarah Fisher said Gannon’s idea was worth considering, although not with any particular business in mind. “Maybe if someone is two payments behind,” she suggested.
An hour before their regular meeting, the board held a work session to discuss the use of the 1% local option tax fund. The work session was requested by board member Ann Manwaring following a request from the Old School Enrichment Council for $98,000 in startup funding from the 1% local option fund, as well as a $60,000 annual commitment from the town for user fees.
According to Wilmington Finance Officer Christine Richter and town manager Scott Tucker, the fund currently has an unencumbered balance of about $304,000. But Richter said the balance does not include several items that the board has considered paying out of the fund.
The board also reviewed a list of 1% funding priorities, which included projects such as a community center, relocation of the town offices and police department, affordable housing, a water and sewer department merger, expansion of Memorial Hall services, and even the Look Road Bridge construction project. Board members also discussed other projects that are in the works, such as sidewalk improvements on South Main Street and East Main Street.
Manwaring asked if there was anything in the board’s 1% fund spending criteria or rules of procedure that would prevent them from taking up OSEC’s request for funding. “It fits the criteria ,” said Gannon. “We’re actually obligated under our procedures to take it up. But if the request is more than 20% of the available balance, not only does the selectboard have to approve it, but the voters need to approve it, too.”
But Gannon said he would need more detailed financial information before he would be ready to vote on the request.
Fitzgerald noted that the amount requested by OSEC was more than 20%. But Manwaring suggested the board could consider a different strategy. “What if we decided, in the short run, that we’re willing to put up the cost difference for new ADA accessible doors?” she said. “That wouldn’t trigger the 20% vote.”
OSEC is currently in an agreement with the Wilmington School District to purchase the property, but hasn’t closed the deal yet. Several times during the meeting, Fitzgerald said the board should not consider OSEC’s request until they own the building. “I’m not sure why we would have to wait until they own the building,” said Manwaring.
“We could make it dependent on their ownership,” said Fisher.
Later in the meeting, OSEC member Cindy Hayford noted that Deerfield Valley Rescue recently requested $30,000 in 1% funding for a building they don’t currently own, and the selectboard voted to increase the amount to $50,000.
OSEC Chair Steve Goldfarb said he didn’t expect the town to hand over any money before the group owns the building, but he would like to know what the selectboard’s intentions are before the group purchases the building.
Later, in discussions during their regular meeting, Fitzgerald explained his concerns regarding the OSEC funding. “We’re going to need some funds for economic development as our retail sector continues to shift,” he said. “We have so many big capital projects, to continue funding something like this – we can’t afford to piss away money on projects that aren’t going to benefit everyone. This has been going on for three years, and we’re picking up a job that the school board didn’t finish.”
Manwaring thanked Fitzgerald for his frankness on the issue.