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When was the last time someone offered you a gift of $750,000? If it hasn’t happened to you, don’t feel bad. It hasn’t happened to me either. But if the offer were made, I’ll bet very few of us would say, “Hmmm, I’ll have to think about that.” Yet that was essentially the response of the Waitsfield Select Board to the announcement that the town had been awarded a Community Development Block Grant in that amount toward construction of a new town office building on the Flemer Farm Stand site. According to The Valley Reporter, we are told that the board is still in the process of preparing a voter preference survey.
Because of its considerably higher costs, the Methodist Church is not an option that will gain broad taxpayer support, even if it were to qualify for a $750,000 grant. With the grant, the cost to taxpayers for a new town office at the Farm Stand site is $550,000. If a grant in the same amount were secured for the Methodist Church option, and this is a big if, the cost to taxpayers at that site would be $1,350,000. This figure is more than double the cost of the Farm Stand site and does not take into account the added borrowing costs over 20 years. The Methodist Church site fails the test of fiscal responsibility. Decisions are seldom made in a financial vacuum. Many taxpayers who support the idea of historic preservation, myself among them, find it impossible to endorse an option that is more than twice as expensive.
Just as is the case when buying a home, what we want is usually tempered by what we can afford. Too much mortgage often leads to trouble in meeting other expenses and obligations. The town of Waitsfield faces financial challenges down the road and to ensure that we can meet those challenges, it would be poor fiscal policy to spend an extra $800,000 on a town office (the case with the Methodist Church option) even if a $750,000 grant could be obtained.
We have the opportunity to build a new town office that will meet our needs for the foreseeable future and we have been given a gift that makes it affordable. We need to be careful not to look past a good solution in search of a perfect one. Whether or not the Farm Stand site is your first choice, at $550,000, it is more than a good solution; it is a very good solution that comes at a bargain price to Waitsfield taxpayers. Waitsfield needs a new town office and we need it now—before the next flood or septic system failure.
The select board’s decision to delay a decision pending a survey likely means that construction costs on any option will rise as the economy continues to strengthen. As a corollary to a strengthening economy, borrowing costs, as reflected in bond rates, will also rise. We need to move forward expeditiously. There is an urgency to this issue which the select board does not seem to recognize.
At town meeting in February, voters turned down a $1.6 million bond article for new town offices at the Flemer Farm Stand site, I believe, because of the cost. I was one of those who voted against it. Now, this highly functional alternative has become an extremely affordable alterative and I am certain that many voters would reconsider at the new price of $550,000.
Opportunity is knocking. I believe Waitsfield taxpayers hear that knocking and will respond accordingly. They understand that we will not get a better deal than this. Ask the Waitsfield Select Board to bring the Flemer Farm Stand site before the voters at the new price of $550,000.
Davies lives in Waitsfield.