SHAFTSBURY -- The Shaftsbury Select Board met on Thursday to discuss possible next steps after the failed garage bond vote on Tuesday.
The vote, which failed by a margin of 319-350, would have allowed the town to take out a $995,000 bond to finance the construction of a new garage facility to replace the current garage, which is about 45-years old.
Vice-chairman Carl Korman immediately brought up the multitude of public comments, both at public town meetings and in the Banner, regarding the health concerns with the current garage. Korman said that, as the town was on the record about the problems with the garage, he was very concerned that, "If, God forbid, something should happen, the town could be found liable."
As such, Korman suggested asking the road foreman, Terry Stacey, for a safety report, as a first step. Chairwoman Karen Mellinger agreed, but also thought an engineer should be brought in to determine the structural integrity of the building. Selectman Tim Scoggins agreed, saying, "We need a structural engineer to look at the roof, maybe an environmental hazards expert to look at [the issue with the] fumes." Stacey had said previously that the garage had very poor ventilation, and the road crew often had to eat lunch, "where we work, with all the fumes and everything."
Korman made a motion to bring in an expert to assess both work conditions and structural integrity at the garage, for the purpose of employee safety and town liability.
Scoggins then addressed Ken Harrington, who had been the only member of the select board to oppose the bond vote, as to why he believed the bond had failed. Harrington cited cost as his primary reason for opposing the garage, but he said he had heard from others that the location was a sticking point. Harrington did acknowledge, however, that he had seen, from data collected at test wells, no evidence of pollution at the proposed site.
Harrington had previously stated his belief in starting a reserve fund to eventually put towards a new garage. Scoggins questioned Harrington on what he would cut from the budget to fund both that fund and repairs on the current garage. Harrington suggested, based on his previous experience as the town's road foreman, cutting one truck and one staff member from the road crew, suggesting that the town wouldn't see a difference in service. He said that several citizens had expressed concern to him that the road crew has too much equipment.
Mellinger disagreed, pointing to increased population in what she described as the "hinterlands" of Shaftsbury in the years since Harrington was road foreman. She also said that many non-natives had moved to the area, and "demand better services than the area is necessarily used to." Mellinger noted that many of the roads had been widened, meaning they took multiple passes, where they only used to take one.
Scoggins then brought up a quotation from financial advisor and garage committee member Mike Gardner, who had said at a committee meeting that Shaftsbury Hollow used to be impassable during certain times of year, and that the current road crew had made a huge difference in improving that situation.
Harrington said that was inaccurate. "I worked for the Town of Shaftsbury for four years, as road foreman, and never during that time was a road closed for more than a few hours," he said.
Korman did acknowledge how efficient the current road crew is, saying, "I'm absolutely convinced that one of the reasons so many people were willing to vote against the garage was because Terry is doing such a fantastic job." Korman also noted that taxes did not go up when the last employee was added to the road crew, or when the last truck was purchased.
Scoggins then asked Harrington if he thought, based on his conversations with residents, the vote indicated that the majority of taxpayers were unwilling to see their municipal taxes go up, "by one thin dime." While Harrington could not comment on that, Scoggins and Korman indicated that that is what they took out of the vote, notably that residents were willing to see their services decline so that taxes could stay level.
Mellinger disagreed, saying, "It's our job to present the best budget we can with what's provided to us, and we've been able to do that without raising taxes or decreasing services over the last several years." She went on, "We need to be able to maintain our services. If this bond had gone down the way the last one did, I'd agree," noting that the last vote had only failed by 31 votes, not the almost 2-1 margin of the original vote.
In the interest of maintaining services, while also creating budget space for maintenance on the current garage, Korman made a motion that community appropriations to local non-profit organizations be limited to 50 percent of what each organization received last year, with the remaining 50 percent going towards any repairs that are found to be necessary for the town garage. Scoggins seconded the motion, noting that he was not necessarily expressing support, but simply believed that all options were worthy of discussion, much like Harrington's suggestion of cutting the road crew.
Last year, the Town of Shaftsbury donated over $60,000 to non-profit organizations, at the behest of voters. Korman acknowledged that the decrease in support would hurt those organizations, but said that if voters want to keep taxes down, they should support those organizations themselves.
"After all," he said, "charity starts at home." Before voting on the issue, Mellinger expressed caution that the town still does not know what maintenance on the current garage will cost. She and Korman both acknowledged during the discussion that cutting appropriations was not a route they wanted to go down, but the funds would have to come from somewhere.
Harrington objected strongly to the motion, calling it, "robbing Peter to pay Paul."
In the end, the motion failed 0-4, with Korman abstaining from the vote. "I respect the conversation, and the thoughtfulness of the board," said Mellinger.
Mellinger acknowledged that the discussion regarding how to pay for the repairs to the current garage while keeping taxes down and maintaining services would be a difficult one. "Right now," she said, "we seem to have a split town."
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB.