At its Dec. 10 meeting, the Bennington Select Board voted by majority not to place an advisory vote before the voters in March 2013 seeking to change the land use regulations to create a commercial zone at the former Johnson Controls site. The board has asserted that it will consider such a change when the owner of the site has a concrete proposal to present. And so it goes
There have been statements made in print that the town is not looking forward and will not be able to handle infrastructure needs in the future. The town is well-positioned financially. Its water and sewer funds are stable. The rates for water and sewer remain on par with other systems in the state even with the $7 million upgrade of the water treatment plant. The town tax rate for the general and highway funds remains below $1 per hundred of assessed value having increased at less than the rate of inflation over the last decade. In the last six months, the town's revolving loan program has facilitated the creation of a number of new small businesses, each creating new jobs. This same program has also helped one existing business expand its services and stay in business. The carbon composite sector is alive and expanding. Working with area schools, it is helping to create opportunities for students to live and work here. Certainly, there are new challenges in our future. The waste water treatment plant study to determine what processes should be upgraded has been completed. The project was presented to the Select Board on Dec. 10. The estimated costs run as high as $12.9 million. Town staff will now review the proposal with an eye to making a recommendation to the board for bonding in March 2014.
Certain low-pressure areas of the water system must be improved. These costs are estimated at $5 million. Some of the improvements in both water and waste water systems can be phased in over time. Some will need bonding approval in order to move forward. Some may not be essential at this time. The Select Board and the staff understand the challenges. Together and with community support, I believe the necessary projects can be moved forward in a cost-effective and efficient manner.
The fiscal 2014 general and highway fund budgets are nearing completion. We use a zero-based budget approach and try to develop a budget with as little tax impact as possible. This year's proposal must contain funds to address impacts of Tropical Storm Irene. It will also contain funds to begin paying for the voter-authorized Recreation Center pool improvements recently completed. The proposed budget will be presented to the Select Board in December, just before the holidays. In fact, when I finish this piece, I need to get working on my written presentation for the board. After all, time is short if I am to deliver the budgets to the board on Dec. 17.
I was a guest on WBTN 1370 AM this morning. David Lively, the host, asked an interesting question, one that arose from some of our off-air discussion. It went something like this, "If I'm seeing roundabouts, a tree-lined street, and red roses where am I?" The answer is Northside Drive in the future. When Walmart is constructed, the intersection will become a roundabout, thereby eliminating the signal light. The town has completed a study with state planning monies looking at the effects of a roundabout at each of the major intersections along Northside Drive. If this was done and a tree-lined median installed to prevent left turn movements, each roundabout could be planted with the red roses one sees at the Benmont Avenue intersection. Imagine how beautiful the street would become. Imagine how easily traffic would move throughout the area. Imagine.
Remember, if anyone has any questions or suggestions arising from this column or on any town matters, please contact me at 442-1037 or stop in at the Town Offices on South Street.
Stuart Hurd is Bennington's town manager. He writes a monthly column on town issues.