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Anyone can see that the town offices really do need more space as it is, so I have been trying to think of a viable, feasible, economical solution. First, there are several buildings currently for sale in town that could be purchased and refitted into town offices for a whole lot less than the select board wants to spend now. John Egan's Big World Pub (+/-$500k), the white building at the bottom of Bragg Hill ($335k), the Wallis Farm ($675k), the Waitsfield House ($495k) right across the street from the current offices. Surely if we started with any one of them, it would cost way less than a million dollars to convert it into the space that the offices require. We are not building a tourist attraction with a revenue stream, we are creating an office space. It’s just not rocket science.
Then I thought about why we arehaving discussions about buying more land as well. Currently, the town owns more than 1,000 acres of conservation land and that is an old number. They recently bought that rock by Peasant Restaurant although I find the rationalization for that pretty thin! Now they seem to feel that we need even more property in town. What is going on?
This property purchasing is compounded by the fact that every time the town buys land it comes off the tax revenue income. If they are really hung up on building new, let's use the field on Route 100 across from the Valley Professional Center. We already own that and the site is readily accessible to anyone who needs to look at records.
This business about having to be in the village is silly; the village is a charming part of town for our guests. We need offices, not a visitor center. Beyond that, it seems that they have forgotten where the Fayston town clerk’s office is and that works fine.
That is when the light bulb went off. Bingo. The records! All those file cabinets crowding up the town office. In this age of available technology why aren’t we discussing storing our records on a server? There is lots of evidence that it is probably going to happen at some time anyway; it is the wave of the future. We already have a secure storage vault for the hard copy records in Middlesex provided by the state anyway. Let‘s use that storage for the precious hard copy paper records and let the public information be truly public!
Why don’t we discuss spending funds on having all our records scanned and filed and stored on a server? It is all public information and I am sure that once digitizing was accomplished, it would cut way down on the manpower services as anyone who needed anything could simply get on their computer, find instructions for a search and find what they need at their convenience. For anyone who can’t do that at home, we could afford to put a computer in the town office and with all the new space they will have it won’t be in the way so the staff can help someone who is technology challenged.
Warren has already made a good start of it with their town website. We could take that concept and expand on it to include deeds, permits, span numbers, tax bills and all of the other public documents that attorneys, realtors and other people might want to find. People could search, locate and then print records for themselves. They could download permit applications, find minutes of meetings, keep up with what was going on directly rather than wait until Thursday for a paragraph here and there on a week’s worth of activity in the office. It is so much simpler than having to go to the office and spend time digging through books and files in the town office.
We would only need to keep a minimum of current records as hard copy in the building.Other documents could be scanned, posted to the web directory and then delivered to the Middlesex vault for safe storage. Without all the file cabinets and books in the vault, we could renovate the space we already have or rent/purchase and existing space for the offices. I am betting on close to a million dollars of tax dollars saved immediately.
So today, after reading the paper, I would like to thank everyone who voted to give us more time to think this project over! I also see the argument that we might get a $750,000 grant towards a new town clerk’s office. Well, rather than spending $900,000 to get that grant, perhaps we could use the grant funds to build ourselves the required website and to do all of the scanning and filing of our online documents for people to access. We would probably still have enough money left over to move into office space on higher ground since we no longer need a vault.
Vermont has made it clear that the technology initiative is important, so let's lead that way rather than wait until it gets to us. How would it feel if we incur yet another huge tax burden for this office and then four years from now there is a statewide initiative to store records digitally!
So let’s discuss that as a concept before we go off spending another enormous round of tax dollars on yet more land and yet more construction that will eventually go digital in the future anyway! Just a thought.
Cunningham lives in Waitsfield.