At its Dec. 9 meeting, the Select Board faced, and acted on, some very important issues. It listened to a presentation by EPA and Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) on the PCB contamination problems the former JARD site is causing. Over the last summer, EPA and DEC have acted to seal some residential wells located in basements, cleaned several basements that had sediment left from high water, and identified the extent of current contamination. The Board was asked to support a National Priority Listing (Superfund) so that EPA can access the necessary funds to remove the contaminated material and clean the groundwater at the site. The Board voted to support this effort unanimously recognizing that the community and the adjoining properties are entitled to this protection.
The board adopted a bonding resolution to move forward with a March 2014 bond vote to construct a 750,000-gallon water tank on lands of Southern Vermont College. This project, estimated to cost $3.3 million, will serve the college allowing it to connect to the Bennington water system and ultimately provide increased pressure to the higher elevation neighborhoods such as Jefferson Heights and Crescent Boulevard and to the hospital as well. This project will bring Bennington's water systems into full compliance with state regulations. The partnership with the college will offer timely access to low interest monies, provide students with an opportunity to work and learn with and from the project, and allow the college opportunities to grow in the future. SVC will share in the cost of the project.
The board heard an update on the long awaited rail trial from Bennington Station to Molly Stark School. This project has finally received the cooperation from Vermont railway that will allow the project to utilize the railroad right-of-way. Recent cost estimates indicate a savings from the original estimates and may allow the Town to carry the pathway all the way to the Applegate housing complex, thereby providing a connection to Orchard Road for students to walk to school and to Northside Drive for all. It should reduce busing costs for the school system as well.
On the recommendation of its finance director, Melissa Currier, the Board voted to pay down the bond for the Recreation Center repairs and renovations completed last year. At the end of 2013, the General Fund contained $310,000 surplus monies. In order to reduce interest payments and future long- term borrowing, the Board agreed to pay $250,000 against the total outstanding debt. This leaves a balance of $282,000 still owing. We hope to continue this practice in future years should surplus monies be available. Financially, it makes sense.
The 2015 General and Highway Fund budgets were handed to the Board on December 9. We use a zero-based budgeting approach and try to develop a budget with as little tax rate impact as possible. This year's proposal indicates an increase in spending of only 2. 5 percent. Several agencies are petitioning for placement on the ballot. These items, if approved, do impact the tax rate. Grand List growth and other revenues are not fully known; however, I would hope to complete this budget with a tax rate increase no more than $0.03.
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.