Question holds up vote on Pownal town hall proposal

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POWNAL — Supporters of a proposal for a new town hall have collected the requisite petition signatures to request a townwide vote on the issue.

But at a regularly scheduled Select Board meeting Thursday night, confusion arose about whether the proposed wording of the article, dealing with the project's financing, could be changed.

"That's the question we're working on now," said Town Administrator Michael Walker when reached by the Banner Friday.

The petition asks the board to call a vote in September on an article to appropriate $630,868 for a new town hall with a modular core and a historic schoolhouse attached.

But at the meeting, members of the historical society presented a modified article for consideration that includes wording about debt authorization — unlike the initial article.

The modified article asks the town to vote on whether to pay for the project using $213,551.13 from the Municipal Office Fund and a 20-year bond not to exceed $417,316.87.

Officials expressed confusion about whether they could change the wording of the article from its form on the petition — and if so, how.

"I think what was put on the petition is the article," said Nelson Brownell, chairman of the Select Board. "Are we allowed to change that? I don't know the answer to that."

The historical society's initial petition did not include wording about how the money for the project would be raised.

The petition required signatures from at least 10 percent of the town's registered voters, or at least 250 signatures; it received 309, said Town Clerk Julie Weber.

The proposal would move a circa-1840s schoolhouse from its current location on North Pownal Road to town-owned property on Center Street.

Modular construction would be used for the town's core offices. The attached schoolhouse would be used for Select Board meetings and a Pownal History Center.

The Historical Society went before the Select Board in July, and was persuaded not to seek an August vote on the proposal, as the board felt more time was needed to allow residents to learn about the plan.

Efforts to replace the cramped, aging town hall are long-running.

Pownal previously considered building a new town hall on the Center Street property it purchased in 2006 for $60,000, where the Bartels Lodge used to be.

But taxpayers rejected that $911,100 ballot question during the 2017 town meeting in a vote of 329-214.

The current proposal was originally presented to the Select Board in June.

Patricia LeBoeuf can be reached at pleboeuf@benningtonbanner.com, at @BAN_pleboeuf on Twitter and 802-447-7567, ext. 118.


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