Town Meeting is over. Congratulations to Sharyn Brush, Tom Jacobs and John McFadden on their election to the Select Board. The board will reorganize at its first meeting in April. I extend a special thanks to Jason Morrissey and Chris Oldham for their service over the last several years. I want to thank the voters for their support of the town’s budget. The strength of the positive vote (2.5 to 1) is an indication that we have your strong support. The budget included additional funds for highway and sidewalk work thanks to the support we received on the special article last year. All agency-funding articles passed as well adding $87,350 to the budget. I would like to extend my thanks as well to the Select Board candidates who were not successful; Mike Bethel, Gene Rowley, Chuck Putney and Peter Brady. The campaign was generally about issues the town is facing and not very negative.
It should be noted that both BSD and MAU budgets failed in Bennington. The remaining members of the MAU District carried its budget to victory. The BSD Board has already begun the process of review to find cuts that might make the budget more palatable. This will not be an easy task. The BSD Board has also reached out to the Supervisory Union to seek reductions in its budget to ease the burden on BSD. I, for one, think we ought to be able to vote on the SVSU budget. The SVSU budget drives much of what we are assessed in Bennington. One way to eliminate this layer of governance that remains beyond the voters’ control is to move to a unified union school district. In this way, a board, possibly similar to MAU in make up, elected by the voters, would hire the Superintendent and oversee the administration of our schools. While I believe that small, neighborhood schools provide the best educational environment, the idea that the governance of those schools cannot be broadened and unified under one superintendent and one board is, in my opinion, difficult to understand.
We now look warmly toward spring. The downtown planting contract is under review by the Bennington in Bloom committee. Fundraising has begun to help the committee meet its goal for those amazing plantings that should be on the street around Memorial Day. The new Pleasant Street Enhancement project is seeking its resident engineer to assist with design and right-of-way issues. We may see some action this construction season. The majority of work will most likely occur next year, providing the state clears the project in a timely manner.
Remember, the Union Street Enhancement project took five years to clear the state’s hurdles. Once again, it appears that the warm winter will allow the town to begin its construction season earlier than usual. Of course, March came in like a lamb so watch out for the lion.
The Hunt Street (Benmont Avenue) Bridge project should move to construction this year. The project is principally a deck replacement project using a pre-cast deck structure, keeping the current two-lane concept with sidewalk on one side. One-lane traffic will be maintained throughout the project to mitigate business disruption in that area. The plan is to have traffic moving in the northerly direction only with detours in place to reroute southbound traffic.
The planning indicated that traffic would back up into Northside Drive if two directional movements were maintained. This is the most cost-effective and efficient solution saving both the state and the town money.
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 for the Banner.