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Citizens plan to petition for a second vote on Waitsfield town offices

A group of citizens is retooling the costs of two prospective sites for new offices for the town of Waitsfield and will present those costs along with their plan to petition for a second vote to the select board next week.

The board is slated to meet on Monday, March 25, and will hear how a citizens group hopes to reduce the cost of the proposal that voters rejected at Town Meeting and also reduce the cost of another site that had significant support. The citizens group will then petition for a two-part vote that will allow voters to say yes or no but also select one of the two sites.

At Town Meeting on March 5, voters rejected a proposal for a $1.6 million bond vote to build new town offices on a parcel of land in the village known as the Farm Stand.

Prior to the select board bringing that option to voters, the town office task force also considered rehabilitating the former Methodist church in the village for town offices. That project would have cost $2.4 million and the town office task force ultimately recommended the less expensive project.

John Reilly, who served on the town office task force and is also a member of the citizens group, said that the primary motivation of the current group is to get the matter back before voters as soon as possible so that the town can apply for federal disaster funds available to move municipal infrastructure out of floodplains and flood-prone areas.

Had voters approved the bond vote at Town Meeting, Waitsfield could have applied for and was likely to have been awarded a grant for $750,000 to move its town offices. If the citizens group successfully petitions the town for a new vote, once the select board accepts the petition, the town can submit a grant application for the federal disaster funds.

The petitioners will need the signatures of 10 percent of the town’s registered voters and the select board is legally bound to act on the petition once the signatures are verified. A date for that vote needs to be set and then the vote must be warned 30 days in advance along with a public informational meeting about the proposed vote.

At the select board’s last meeting on March 11 the board spent a considerable amount of time discussing what to do next with the town offices project and whether any action could be taken soon enough for the town to apply for the federal funds. Architect Bill Maclay, who worked with the town office task force in evaluating sites, was present at the meeting and suggested the town find a way to bring a new vote that offered voters a choice between the Farm Stand and the former Methodist church. He also volunteered his services to take another look at both options and see if costs could be reduced further.

Board members discussed the Town Meeting vote and the fact that there is no clear way to determine whether the bond vote failed because of lack of support for the Farm Stand or support for the church or whether it was too much money.

Paul Hartshorn, who is now the chair of the select board, said that he felt it was time to get away from the idea that town offices need to be in the middle of town and look at leasing options away from the center of town.

Maclay and Reilly said that voter input regarding the location of new town offices has been consistent throughout the two years the task force worked on the issue and consistently favored Waitsfield Village.

Board member Scott Kingsbury asked if the task force had considered the former Troll Shop at the intersection of Bragg Hill and Route 100. Maclay said that the task force had considered that as well as other locations in Irasville.

Maclay said that converting existing space into the right configuration for town offices, with an appropriately sized vault and the right configuration for offices and public meeting space, was as expensive or more expensive than building from the ground up.

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