I have just completed my first year as a Proctor Select Board member. I have learned a great deal about highways, water and sewage, salt sheds and other municipal concerns, however the greatest insight is the awareness that pleasing an entire town is inevitably challenging.
I understand most everyone has an opinion and a passion, and trying to get everyone on board with decisions or passing votes is complicated, unsettling and often unappreciative, but as a Select Board our goal is to figure out what is best for the majority of the population and what may cost dearly up front will in the end be more beneficial, efficient and less of a burden to the taxpayers.
The town passed every article at Monday’s town meeting, with the exception of Article 7: to approve funding for a renovated town office and repairs to the front wall at the town offices. Yes, the cost is extreme and many questions were raised as to why the offices weren’t moved elsewhere or built to spec at perhaps a similar cost or even lower cost. As one knows, boards change from year to year and some of the decision makers from years past are no longer on today’s board, so it’s difficult to address a decision I personally, and others, may not have made. This current board is now looking at not only making the building safer, and up to state Department of Labor-VOSHA standards, but also maintaining a historical building that is front-and-center when driving through our small town.
Several buildings in town have been donated, and as gracious as these gifts are, they never come without great cost. The town looked at the building next door, but this was to be a collaboration with another entity; neither could bear the renovation costs on their own, unfortunately that plan was diffused.
The most cost efficient and quickest remedy was to repair what was currently existing, which is the approach the board took and went out for bid on both projects. This is a need and a requirement made from VOSHA to have these upgrades corrected inside the clerk’s office. Therefore, while voting it down was the majority choice, there will need to be an alternative in order to comply with the state’s mandates.
Most questions raised were with regard to ADA compliance with the new renovations. ADA was most certainly taken into consideration, which is why the office entrance would be remodeled and the interior restroom made accessible. The exterior project is to retain the wall so that it does not corrode further, which in turn would create much more damage and much higher costs to repair. Without the funding to add an elevator we cannot make the upstairs accessible to everyone, but that does not mean we would not make attendance to a meeting accessible, either through relocation or telephone conferencing.
Considering the current funds available this was the largest project we could accomplish at this time. If we are to increase the scope of this project, the town would require short-term borrowing or a long-term bond, either of which would require an increase in future general fund expense budgets, paid for by taxpayers.
The board does not put in extensive hours to make things costly or difficult for the town; we try to create solutions. We do seek outside funding and look at numerous opportunities for grants. These are things we research and try to achieve to make the town affordable, safe and enjoyable for all residents. This town offers a great deal in comparison to many and those benefits need to be acknowledged as well.
I urge the town to reconsider Article 7 and understand the need that is not only recognizable, but also placed upon us by the Vermont Department of Labor Standards. Sometimes the needs of many outweigh the needs of a few.
Judy Frazier is a member of the Proctor Select Board.