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Several recent letters to The Valley Reporter have highlighted the challenge faced by the task force appointed by the Waitsfield Select Board to study options for a new town office.
As most readers know, after a lengthy public process, the task force recommended that the town purchase the Flemer-Compere Farm Stand parcel and construct a new office at a cost of $1.6 million. That recommendation will be voted on next Tuesday. Some readers have criticized this proposal for being too costly, while others have been critical that the town is not seeking to acquire and renovate the old Methodist church despite its higher cost.
These criticisms are not a surprise, given the many comments the task force heard urging fiscal restraint to not overburden taxpayers, as well as many of the comments regarding the need to make sure that this long-term investment contributes to our civic pride and village character. I don’t believe that these are contradictory concerns.
Waitsfield has an opportunity to create a new town office that will meet the town’s needs for the next 50 to 100 years without placing an undue burden on taxpayers, while strengthening and enhancing the village’s streetscape. As a member of the task force – although not speaking on their behalf in this letter – I supported the Farm Stand option because it achieves those goals. Other considerations that influenced my personal decision include:
Most people I’ve spoken with understand and respect the various opinions that exist on this topic, regardless of whether they support the Farm Stand proposal. Unfortunately, this is not true of everyone. I take particular exception to Kirsten Siebert’s recent letter to The Valley Reporter in which she dismisses any consideration of cost as being nothing more than a “sales pitch.” She goes on to criticize the task force’s recommendation, the process in which it was made and the people who made it.
In an attempt to discredit the task force, Siebert accuses these volunteers of pursuing an undefined “agenda.” She never reveals what she believes this “agenda” to be, only implies that members have some personal stake in the outcome other than performing the job they were asked to do to the best of their abilities.
She further claims that the task force did not listen to participants at a public forum held in December. This is not true, as demonstrated by the specific actions that the task force took in response to the public comments made at that forum.
In December, the task force presented two conceptual town office designs to nearly 100 residents. A plan for the church, involving 6,200 square feet of space, was presented at an estimated cost between $2,477,000 and $2,612,000 (depending on purchase price). A plan for a new 4,900-square-foot building on the Farm Stand parcel was presented at an estimated cost of $1,714,000.
A lively and constructive discussion ensued. The estimated cost of renovating the church was heavily criticized, with Ms. Siebert and others claiming the estimate was based on flawed methodology and that the church could be renovated at a cost comparable to, or less than, that of the new building. Others made the case that the estimated purchase price of the church ($400,000 to $533,000) was also inflated, with some suggesting that the building could be acquired for as little as $200,000.
It was also suggested that undertaking a partial renovation of the church, leaving a portion of the upstairs unfinished and available for future expansion, could reduce costs. Likewise, some participants pointed out that the conceptual design for the Farm Stand building was larger than the town would need for the foreseeable future.
Like many people that I spoke with, I left the meeting with greater enthusiasm for the church but concerned that I lacked reliable information to make an informed decision. Others agreed, so in the following weeks the task force responded by:
As a result, cost projections for both options were revised and the difference between the two – over $750,000 – was verified, as was the purchase price for the church ($450,000). This information, together with revised plans for both options, was presented at another forum in January.
The extensive amount of time, energy and money put into studying the church was in direct response to public interest. The task force considered all of the information gathered and comments made over the past two years and reached a different conclusion for reasons that have been explained elsewhere. Had the claims made by Ms. Siebert during this process been accurate, I may well have reached a different conclusion, but that was not the case.
Ms. Siebert evidently equates being listened to with being agreed with, and clearly prefers invective to fact-based debate. Rather than explaining her objection to the Farm Stand option – other than wanting to keep the lot across the street from her house undeveloped – Ms. Siebert dismisses the concerns of struggling local taxpayers as a “sales pitch” and attacks the veracity and integrity of those who don’t share her opinion.
I encourage everyone to read the recent informational flier distributed by the select board and vote yes on Tuesday.
Shupe lives in Waitsfield.