In Winhall, ‘other business’ dominates meeting
By Patrick McArdle
STAFF WRITER | March 05,2014
WINHALL — Town and school budgets were approved quickly in Winhall on Tuesday, but that didn’t mean there wasn’t plenty of discussion at the floor meeting.
A school budget of $3,081.936 was passed so quickly that Moderator Stuart Coleman asked if those at the meeting, about 50 people, were sure they didn’t want to ask questions. The municipal budget also passed easily without the specific amount, $3,517,840, being spoken aloud except as “the budget proposed by the Winhall Select Board as presented in the 2013 town report.”
An appropriation for Greater Northshire Access Television for $2,000, however, was rejected.
Winhall voters approved the budget and other questions from the floor, using the Australian ballot only to elect town officials. However, this year there were no contested races.
Residents who attended the meeting seemed more interested in talking about other business, such as the future of the town garage where there was a fire in January, a one-lane bridge shut down for more than a year for safety reasons and the fate of the former Town Hall, than ballot items.
Robert Oakes, chairman of the Select Board, gave voters an update on the town garage following the Jan. 20 fire believed to have been caused by an electrical short in one of the vehicles inside. He said two trucks and a grader were lost, but the town’s insurance is expected to pay $138,750 for the two trucks.
Oakes said the town’s reserve funds, supplemented with the budget approved Tuesday, will give the town enough money to replace the trucks at an estimated cost of about $345,000.
Select Board member Steve Blanchard said the plan to replace the grader was to accept the insurance money but then buy it back as salvage so it could be restored. According to Blanchard, the insurance payment, minus the amount used to buy it back as salvage, would net Winhall about $104,000.
While he said these numbers were estimates, Blanchard said the grader could be restored to use for about $25,000 and could stay active for another five years.
The insurance company is offering $383,000 for the building, but the Select Board has hired an independent adjuster to see whether they can get more before making final plans to replace the garage.
The discussion of the fire led to a public show of appreciation for the Winhall Fire Department and its actions Jan. 20.
This year’s ballot had an advisory question, added by the Select Board, asking whether voters wanted to keep, maintain and repair the former Town Hall on River Road.
For more than a year, the Town Hall on Route 30 has been open and in use leaving the former building mostly empty. Select Board members told voters they wanted to hear opinions on whether they wanted to invest in rehabilitating the building and finding some use for it or attempt to get rid of it either by selling it or taking it down.
The question was complicated because there is an expense just to keeping the building standing idle. By that point in the meeting, voters had already approved a municipal budget with a line item of almost $7,000 for maintenance.
Select Board members said there might be some interest in using the building but suggested it might be community activities such as yoga or small gatherings, activities that would be unlikely to generate enough revenue to make the building profitable.
The Select Board had not had an engineer or architect look at the building because they wanted to get some feedback from the community. But with a positive vote cast Tuesday to look at options other than giving it up, asking for a professional opinion and getting some solid cost estimates are expected to be the next steps.
A question was also raised about a bridge on Lower Taylor Hill Road which is currently shut down because of its unsafe condition. Blanchard said they had looked at reopening the bridge but gotten an estimate that it would cost $1.3 million.
Blanchard reminded residents the bridge was one way and the town had many other road and infrastructure needs. There do not appear to be any state funds available at this time for the project, Select Board members said.