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By Wayne Davies
This is addressed to the voters of Waitsfield.
On July 30 Waitsfield voters will decide whether we will have a new town office. Voter approval means that a town office will be constructed at the Flemer Farm Stand site with sufficient space to accommodate present and future needs. It will be a public building in a neighborhood of public buildings—a school, a library, fire and ambulance facilities, a health center—and private homes.
It is also a bargain, made so by the $750,000 grant the Town received for construction at that site. A detailed cost estimate developed by Henry Erickson, a professional estimator hired by the select board, places construction costs at $1,138,000. When the grant is taken into account, the local taxpayer cost becomes $388,000. Architects have recommended an additional $66,000 for energy efficiency and paving for a total taxpayer cost of $454,000, still well below the $650,000 bond limit. To put this in perspective, the planned culvert replacement on Tremblay Road is budgeted at $200,000. The impact on property taxes will also be very modest, about $36 annually for a home valued at $250,000, about the cost of two burgers and two beers at the Den. Surely the security of our town records is worth that.
Waitsfield desperately needs new municipal offices. If this bond is defeated, we are literally back to square one. The grant will be gone. There are no other cost-effective alternatives. Renting is not cheaper when a new, purpose-built office can be had for less than $500,000. The Methodist Church is a far more costly proposition, with or without a grant. Mr. Erickson's estimates for that site are $1,709,000 based on architect Bill Maclay's design and $1,577,000 for an alternative design developed by architect Ellen Strauss. In both scenarios, without a grant—and there is no certainty that one can be obtained—the cost to Waitsfield taxpayers would be well over a million dollars more than the Farm Stand site. Any design in any location without the $750,000 head start provided by the grant will cost more.
The Methodist Church is well utilized at present. Architects have determined the structure to be sound. It awaits developers with creativity and ambition willing to seek private investment for its redevelopment. If the church is worth preserving, and most people would agree that it is, then it is worth preserving with funds from private sources—individual, foundation and corporate.
This is not a referendum on historic preservation. It is about the wise use of tax dollars in a town already heavily taxed and facing significant infrastructure expenses over the next several years. The Flemer Farm Stand site meets this criterion.
Please vote yes on July 30.
Davies lives in Waitsfield.