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By Kate Williams
This is addressed: To Waitsfield Voters.
I'm writing on behalf of the Waitsfield Post-Bond Vote Water and Wastewater Task Force to respond to recent letters concerning the water project that will be going before Waitsfield voters on June 10.
First, my thanks to those have taken the time to write those letters, and also to those who have sent e-mails, called, or otherwise shared ideas with me or other members of the task force or select board. Engaging in conversation about community issues is a central part of what makes any democracy work, and -- messy as it may sometimes be -- it's essential. Thank you.
I'll divide my thoughts into two parts here: process and content.
Process: We all know that the act of voting is a fundamental part of the democratic process. Re-voting is also a legitimate and appropriate part of the democratic process. At the federal, state and municipal level, it is common for an article as initially proposed to be voted down, reconsidered, voted again, and either passed or voted down again. Through the voting process, community members share their views on a topic, and in the wake of a close vote, it often makes sense for town officials to seek to better understand those views to determine if further action is in the interest of the community.
Following the close votes on the three articles in March, the task force was convened to better understand the reasons for the no votes, and to determine if it was the will of the community to reconsider refined projects that addressed their specific concerns. The task force included community members who had voted no, those who had not voted at all because they did not feel that the town gave them adequate information to make a good voting decision, and yes voters.
The task force held two forums and three meetings that were open to the public, and followed a three-step process of: 1) gathering and reviewing public input; 2) laying out all potential options (including no further action) based on this input and a review of such documents as the 2005 Town Plan; and 3) selecting an option to recommend to the select board.
The task force unanimously voted for the option of moving forward a revised water project only, with a majority of task force members present. We recommended that the vote be held on June 10 because it needed to be held prior to August 1 in order to secure the grant funding. Also, we felt that it was important to hold it before the end of the school year so it would be more accessible to people who may travel over the summer.
Content: The task force chose to put forward a water project only; there is no wastewater project going before voters at this time. The water project that will go to vote on June 10 is a different project than the water project proposed in March. The differences reflect direct responses to concerns raised by community members.
Specifically, a portion of grant funding originally allocated to wastewater was shifted over to the water project to cover the fire protection assessment and to subsidize a portion of connected user fees. There is no hydrant assessment. Connected users will pay the balance of the project costs, with no tax implications for the broader community.
No one is required to connect, so connected users will have made a decision based on full information about costs and benefits. This shifting of grant funds is the primary difference in the project, but the Task Force also wants to make it clear that the service area extends from the intersection of Tremblay and North Roads, to Fiddler's Green, including the Loop Road (Old County Road). This was the service area for the original proposal, but this was not clear to voters so we want to make that explicit in this renewed proposal.
In closing, I invite all community members to attend one or more of the forums that the task force is holding to provide more information about the water project proposal, and to continue the dialog with community members.
Morning forums will be held Thursday mornings, May 29, and June 5, 7:45 to 9 a.m. at the Three Mountain Café. Evening forums will be held on Wednesday, May 28, 7 to 9 p.m. at Valley Players, Thursday, June 5, 7 to 9 p.m. at Waitsfield Elementary School, and Monday, June 9, 7 to 9 p.m. at Waitsfield Elementary School.
I also invite you to read the materials the task force has put together to further explain the proposed water project. A Fact Sheet, Frequently Asked Questions Sheet, and Background Sheet are available at the Town Office and the Village Grocery, and are also posted on the town website (www.waitsfieldvt.us ). The documents will also be available at all forums.
Kate Williams is a Waitsfield Select Board member.