POWNAL -- Pownal Select Board members aren't letting their lack of a new town hall keep them in the old one -- officials are looking into the possibility of holding meetings someplace else.
The Pownal Select Board held its regular meeting Thursday with members discussing a variety of new business, including possible errors in vacation time allotted for town employees and the designation of Pownal Elementary School as an official American Red Cross shelter.
Selectman Rich Ryder addressed the issue of the confined space in the town hall, where meetings are held weekly, saying that holding meetings in another location would be safer and would allow more residents of the community to attend.
"The town has outgrown this facility," said Ryder. "There is nothing in this office that we need to hold a meeting other than our paperwork."
Select Board Chairman Stephen Kauppi said he was open to having alternative meeting sites presented to the board, but felt that moving would be unnecessary.
"I agree with you on the room," said Kauppi. "The downside of moving is that if someone comes in here and needs something we all know right where to get it." The weekly meetings are filmed by CAT-TV, and any temporary meeting location would need to accommodate a live stream of the footage.
"Unless we bring something hot to the table, not a lot of people come to these meetings," said Kauppi, also noting that access to public records as well as a photocopier are sometimes required.
While all members agreed that space concerns were an issue, Selectman Michael George said he would be against relocating.
"I think town business should be conducted right here in the town hall," said George.
The board ultimately voted unanimously to review alternative meeting locations, to be presented by Ryder at a future meeting. Possible locations include Pownal Fire Department center station, the library, VFW or the elementary school.
Town auditors Ray Shields and Betty Baker were on hand to discuss perceived errors in vacation and sick time taken by several town employees.
Kauppi said that after analyzing payroll and personnel records there were no errors to be found.
"If [earned] time wasn't taken within a calendar year, it would roll over to the next year," said Kauppi, noting that for the employees in question the vacation time was "zeroed out on their anniversary date," or the date they were hired.
"Our only concern is to have the pay stubs reflect the actual time they have remaining," said Shields. The board maintained that there were no errors and no further actions were taken at that time.
Following the board's approval of a liquor license for Hoppy Valley's Taste of Vermont last week, Peter Hopkins, one of three active partners on the project, presented a completed grant application which he asked the town to submit on their behalf.
The statewide grant is for $15,000 and requires recipients to match any funds that are awarded. It also requires the grant to be submitted or endorsed by a municipality or nonprofit organization.
Select Board Vice Chair Ron Bisson said he was largely against federal or state grant monies being offered to private parties.
"This is taxpayer money," said Bisson. "The people of Vermont are funding this one way or another."
When asked if he thought the expansion of the Hillside House to include Hoppy Valley would generate any new jobs in the area, Hopkins said he thought it would.
"We will create new jobs -- how many remains to be seen," said Hopkins. "We're convinced that it will become a target destination in the area, but I'd rather under-promise and over-deliver."
Noting that anything which can be done to generate more economic growth in the area should be done, Ryder said, "If it's there for the offering, I'd rather see that money be spent here than somewhere else."
Ultimately the motion to submit the grant on behalf of Hoppy Valley passed unanimously. The new business venture is set to open in late March or early April, and will offer tastings of Vermont local products including beer, wine and cheese.
Rep. Bill Botzow, D-Pownal/Woodford, is the chair of the grant review panel that is offering the funds, and said anything that can be done to stimulate the economy is beneficial.
"These grants don't cover the entire cost of starting something like this, but they're sort of like kindling," said Botzow, who was not in attendance during the board's discussion of the grant. "It gives people the ability to start an idea and get it across the finish line."
Botzow also noted that on average it takes an estimated $25,000 to create one new job.
Following Pownal Elementary's recent designation as an official emergency shelter, members of the community are encouraged to sign up for a free class on shelter management.
Offered by the American Red Cross, Incident Command System training will be held on a Saturday to be determined and will teach volunteers how to run a shelter and ensure safety in case of an emergency.
For more information on how to volunteer, contact Selectman Michael George at 802-823-5407.
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