SHAFTSBURY -- On Tuesday, the voters of Shaftsbury denied the town's request to take out a $995,000 bond to finance the construction of a new town garage facility. But what's next for the town?
"At this point, I don't see us being able to do anything, realistically, for at least two years," said Select Board Chairwoman Karen Mellinger. Mellinger said that the Select Board would meet on Thursday night, at 5 p.m. at Cole Hall, to discuss options regarding the garage, as well as other issues.
Mellinger said that the town will likely have to budget potentially extensive maintenance to the current garage, which the town had been hoping to avoid by moving to a new facility. Another issue is whether or not to start a reserve fund to build a new garage in the future, as Selectman Ken Harrington has suggested in the past. Either way, Mellinger said, "I ultimately believe this will end up costing the town more money." Mellinger described investing in the current garage as she has in the past, as "putting good money after bad."
Former Selectman Billy Obenauer lashed out at the town on the Banner's Facebook page after the vote on Tuesday. "It's unfortunate that taxpayer money was used to fund this vote. This was a positioning vote. There is only one time per year that the town will seek a bond from the bank," said Obenauer, referring to the May 15 deadline for submitting bond requests, "This vote was held in anticipation of failure so that they could have one last chance to get it through before the deadline. We will be voting on this again in March."
Mellinger responded to these comments, saying that they were inaccurate and that she was "extremely disappointed" in the amount of misinformation that existed regarding the garage project. Mellinger said that Vermont state statute dictates that there can be no more than two bond votes within a 12-month period, so a March vote would be impossible. Holding a vote in April, more than 12 months after the original bond vote, would also be impractical, as the town wouldn't have time to collect bids from contractors to make an accurate bond application by May 15.
The reasoning behind holding a special election in December, rather than at Town Meeting in March, said Mellinger, was to get the best bids from construction companies. According to Mellinger, Harrington, who owns Ken Harrington Construction and was a member of the Garage Committee, suggested earlier in the year that companies would offer more competitive bids in the winter, when they don't have much work, rather than in the Spring, when they typically have more projects to work on. The Select Board had hoped to be able to have an accurate cost of the project by May, when the bond application would need to be submitted.
What this all means, said Mellinger, is that if the town wanted to hold another vote, say with a less expensive garage proposal, the next time the town would be eligible to apply for a bond would be May 2015. The town could, said Mellinger, attempt to take out a loan with a bank to cover the expenses of the garage, but loans from banks typically come with much higher interest rates than bonds from the bond bank, making it a far less attractive and cost-effective route for the town to take.
Mellinger also referred to the current garage as a health risk for the road crew, due to the cramped space and lack of ventilation. "Those are not good conditions for guys to be working in," she said. Any additions that are made to the current garage would force the town to comply with state regulations that have been created since the garage was built that the garage is currently exempted from. The garage is now over 45 years old, despite only being designed to last 20 years.
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB