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On Tuesday, February 26, the candidates for Waitsfield Select Board responded to questions in a forum hosted by The Valley Reporter at the Big Picture Theater.
This year’s select board race includes two incumbents and two challengers, as Charlie Hosford, current vice chair of the board, is running against Scott Kingsbury for a three-year term, and Sal Spinosa, current chair of the board, is running against Chris Pierson for a two-year term.
The questions, presented by moderator and Valley Reporter editor Lisa Loomis, solicited the candidates’ plans for dealing with currently divisive issues such as the water project, the town offices and the former Birke photography studio, as well as their long-term visions for the town in terms of conservation and development.
A summary of the candidates’ responses is as follows:
Q: The recently completed water project was controversial, leading to divisions in the community. What will you do, as a select board member, to heal those divisions and bring the community together?
Hosford: Thinks the select board has established a water commission to address technical complaints and has recently been receiving positive feedback from residents regarding the project.
Kingsbury: Thinks the town needs to slow down on its projects and work together better.
Pierson: “There’s still a tremendous problem that needs to be addressed: paying for the hydrants.… I think it needs to go before the people of the town to vote on.”
Spinosa: “I think the best thing we can do is ensure that the system works well” and address any problems as they arise.
Q: What is your vision for the town of Waitsfield for the next five years and the next 20 years and what do you plan to do to realize that vision?
Kingsbury: “To become a closer community than we are today… and to remember our history.”
Pierson: Thinks people don’t help each other the way they used to. “We need to bring the community back together and from there we can build.”
Spinosa: “Rapid expansion in the downtown area…but on a small-town scale,” and a working water system.
Hosford: Said he wants to see the “renaissance of downtown” continue, the completion of the sidewalk and town offices, as well as more renewable energy projects in the long term.
Q: What do you believe will be the greatest challenges the select board will face in the next two years?
Pierson: Thinks it will be finding a solution for the town offices.
Spinosa: “We have a lot on our plate right now.” Thinks town needs to finish current projects before starting new ones.
Hosford: Thinks the most pressing issues are the restoration of the covered bridge and Bridge Street, finishing the Mad Path, developing “some kind of master plan” for the Flemer properties and starting on long-deferred maintenance projects.
Kingsbury: “We need to learn to communicate with our residents better.”
Q: What do you see happening to the former Birke Photography Studio, which the town took ownership of last week?
Spinosa: Said he’s spoken to Bridge Street businesses and it seems like they support turning the space into a “pocket park,” where people can eat lunch and watch the river.
Hosford: Thinks the town made the right decision in purchasing the property and agrees with Sal that it could make a good pocket park. “It’s one of the most cherished places in town.”
Kingsbury: “I’m not really quite sure.… I’m just disappointed it’s gone and we didn’t have a chance to support the building.”
Pierson: Said he would have liked to see the building remain in the private sector, but now that it’s property of the town he wants to work on “cleaning it up.”
Q: The needs of the Mad River Valley Planning District (MRVPD) are changing. What role do you see for the planning district and how would you address those changing needs?
Hosford: “They are in so many different projects, so I guess I would see them adding an assistant or reducing the number of projects…but definitely not disappearing.”
Kingsbury: Thinks it’s important for the town to plan.
Pierson: “I think they basically need to stay their course.”
Spinosa: Said he’s sat on the MRVPD board and supports their agenda. Thinks that now that Moretown is involved, he’d like to consider involving Duxbury.
Q: For the past 20 years, Waitsfield has supported land conservation through its Conservation Reserve Fund and partnership with the Vermont Land trust. Do you believe the town should continue efforts to protect farm and forestland and recreational trails?
Kingsbury: “Yes, that shapes our valley tremendously.”
Pierson: “Absolutely, especially the farmland.” But he doesn’t think the Birke Photography Studio sale adheres to the town’s conservation efforts.
Spinosa: Thinks conservation is important but wants to see farmland in “productive use.”
Hosford: Thinks town’s past conservation efforts have produced “exceptional results. I don’t see us backing away from that ever.”
Q: Waitsfield is moving towards a decentralized septic system that will be driven by private development, using a revolving town loan fund. How do you see this system working for your long-term planning for municipal sewage disposal for Waitsfield Village and Irasville?
Pierson: “I certainly have concerns.” Thinks the town needs to keep any development controlled.
Spinosa: “I’m wholeheartedly in favor [of a decentralized system]…. It’s to-scale for the town.”
Hosford: Thinks decentralized system is “really very creative and appropriate for this town.”
Kingsbury: Thinks decentralized system “fits the needs of Waitsfield really well,” but thinks education of potential users is extremely important.
Q: The town is facing several capital needs. What are your priorities for maintaining and improving the town’s infrastructure?
Spinosa: Said he supports the town’s current priorities: the water project, sidewalks, Bridge Street, culverts and the town garage. “It’s a matter of sequencing.”
Hosford: Thinks the town needs to address many delayed infrastructure projects and that repairing the covered bridge and Bridge Street should be a top priority.
Kingsbury: “Waitsfield needs to separate wants from needs.” Thinks the town needs to prioritize road and culvert repairs.
Pierson: “We need to put town hall on hold until we can get more consensus on it.” Thinks that the town should work on repairing the covered bridge and Bridge Street instead, “or we’ll lose the bridge—and the Village—quite frankly.”
Q: As a select board member, what way do you see yourself increasing voter participation? (question posed by Scott Kingsbury)
Pierson: Said he hopes to get more residents involved, as well as students.
Spinosa: Thinks that already, “the board makes a big effort to try and get people involved,” such as having open meetings that are broadcast on TV and covered by the local newspaper. Thinks the board needs to continue and maybe expand these efforts.
Hosford: Thinks the select board already does so much, such as holding public forums and publishing meeting minutes online. Thinks volunteer projects are important in increasing participation.
Q: What are your thoughts on the many public sessions designed to gather information and develop a plan for the siting of energy generation projects, particularly as it relates to wind power? (question posed by Sal Spinosa)
Hosford: Thinks it’s a state issue but that local governments can still take a stance.
Kingsbury: “I think that conservation is the biggest answer to our energy needs.”
Pierson: “I think that, with regards to wind, the answer is no.” Thinks that towns need to slow down in order to make wise choices.
Q: Do you feel the select board has the proper understanding and support of the town to move forward on the bond vote for the town offices? (question posed by Chris Pierson)
Spinosa: “Yes… we’ve considered all of it,” including site options and public comments.
Hosford: “Yes… we put together what I think is one of the most professional research projects the town has ever undertaken.” Thinks that, in the end, the board came up with the “most relevant and appropriate decision.”
Kingsbury: “No… I think the whole process seemed a little rushed, especially towards the end.”
Q: Envisioning a renewable energy future for The Valley, what kind of large- and small-scale projects would you support assuming local tax dollars were required to jumpstart these projects? (question posed by Charlie Hosford)
Kingsbury: Thinks that compost piles for heating have worked well for people in The Valley, on a small scale. On a larger scale, would like to see some sort of community heating pellet system.
Pierson: Supports discreet solar farm operations.
Spinosa : “Alternative energy sources really cannot wait.” Said he is interested in exploring small wind, solar orchards, micro-hydro and biomass energy, on a small scale.
Q: What personally inspires you to maintain or seek the select board position?
Spinosa: “I’m suited for this.” Said that he enjoys the in-depth discussions and believes he has an “aptitude” for the position that he’d otherwise be “wasting.”
Hosford: Said he loves being a part of the decision-making process and believes his background in engineering and construction is valuable to the board.
Kingsbury: Said he is running because he thinks “Waitsfield has struggled in the past few years, and that’s bothered me a lot.”
Pierson: Thinks that “everyone should sit in that chair at least once.”