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The Valley Reporter
P.O. Box 119
Waitsfield, VT 05673

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Waitsfield Select Board responds to questions

By Buz Brumbaugh

Editor's Note: Waitsfield resident Buz Brumbaugh presented The Valley Reporter with a series of questions which he posed to the Waitsfield Select Board regarding the proposed municipal water system. Voters will cast ballots on the water system next week on Tuesday, June 10. Here are Brumbaugh's questions and the select board answers. Brumbaugh: I have heard that more than $1 million has been spent on preliminary studies, etc., but I didn't recall a vote. (Ms. Williams agrees that "voting is a fundamental part of the democratic process.") When did the taxpayers specifically authorize that expenditure and under what authority was that money spent?

Select Board: Voters went to the polls and approved the Town Plan on multiple occasions, which contains goals and policies related to the need for municipal water and wastewater systems. Phelps Engineering was hired in the late 1990s to study the feasibility of municipal wastewater and water systems for Waitsfield Village and Irasville. These initiatives and an accounting of funds spent and borrowed have been reported in the each Town Report annually. Over the years there have been numerous forums, open meetings, press coverage and discussions at Town Meeting about these efforts. The select board is authorized to borrow money to meet the expenses of the town and has believed it had the support of voters to continue investing in the necessary planning and design for this municipal infrastructure. In November 2000, voters overwhelmingly voted to purchase the Munn site off of Route 100, which was another indication of support.

Brumbaugh: Every year the select board seeks specific authorization to spend several thousand dollars on restrooms, recreation, trees, etc. Why didn't they also for the preliminary studies?

Select Board: The town did not establish a special reserve fund for the water or wastewater project years ago because the total project costs were envisioned to be reduced by grants and the remaining debt to be paid back by a 20-, 30-, or 40-year bond. The town obtained three no-interest, deferred payment loans through state revolving loan programs to assist with the planning and design for the water and wastewater project. The town also received $3 million in STAG (State and Tribal Assistance Grant) funds through the Environmental Protection Agency. If the bond votes had passed, the planning and design costs would have been rolled into the total construction costs, reduced by the grant funding available, and paid back through the bond. If the bond votes failed, the STAG funds would be used to reimburse the town up to 55 percent of the planning and design costs.   

Brumbaugh: Will the water have a net impact on the local tax rate? Will debt service on the water project be paid for by all taxpayers or only by users?

Select Board: No. The water project, if passed, will have no effect on the town's tax rate. The debt service and ongoing maintenance costs will be paid for only by the connected users of the system. A condition of the grant and loan funding through Rural Development prohibits the use of town-wide tax dollars for this project, which will be enforced through annual audits. Even though no tax dollars are proposed to be used, a positive town-wide bond vote is a requirement of Rural Development's grant and loan process.

Brumbaugh: If future bond revotes continue to be voted down, or if the project fails because of insufficient receipts from the water users, how will the grants be repaid? And how will Phelps be paid? Certainly not by taxpayers who didn't authorize that expenditure.

Select Board: In the unlikely event of insufficient receipts from water users to pay the costs, the connected users are still responsible. This may require rates to be raised or liens placed on defaulting properties. The projected one-time costs and ongoing water rates are well within those of other Vermont communities with municipal water systems. The more users that connect to the system, the lower the costs.  

The select board wishes to thank Mr. Brumbaugh for the opportunity to respond to his questions. Citizens are also encouraged to attend the forums on Thursday, June 5, and Monday, June 9, 7 p.m. at the Waitsfield Elementary School.

Brumbaugh: If my information or understanding is wrong, I apologize, but the people I have spoken with about this are also in the dark.

Buz Brumbaugh is a former Waitsfield Select Board member.

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