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Waitsfield voters will again cast ballots on October 22 on a proposal to build new town offices on the Farm Stand site.
The select board set the date for the reconsideration vote at its September 12 meeting, but not before a contentious and heated discussion of whether the $750,000 Community Development Block Grant the town received towards its town office project was in fact earmarked for the Farm Stand or whether it was granted to the town for use towards town offices at any location.
On July 30, voters approved a bond article to borrow up to $650,000 to be used with the $750,000 grant to build new town offices at the Farm Stand site, a parcel of land at the north end of the village. That vote was 300-209. In August the select board received a petition calling for reconsideration of that vote.
Select board member Chris Pierson, at the September 12 meeting, opened the discussion of scheduling the reconsideration vote by suggesting that Josh Hanford from the Community Development Block Grant offices misspoke with regard to whether or not the grant was for the Farm Stand or the former Methodist Church.
When Waitsfield applied for the grant, it made application for building new town offices at the Farm Stand and at the former Methodist Church. Hanford came to the town afterward to explain why the funding agency favored the Farm Stand and why the agency awarded the grant for the Farm Stand project. Pierson, however, said that what Hanford said was not clear and that he and others had been confused.
Select board member Bill Parker asked Pierson how Hanford has misspoken and noted that the grant award was all in writing.
"He was wrong that the grant would have to be returned if the Farm Stand project didn't go forward. The grant application would simply have needed to be amended, so we're not bound to the Farm Stand," Pierson said.
"He was very clear that the grant would have to be returned and we'd have to reapply," Parker said.
"He was very clear on that," board chair Paul Hartshorn said.
"What they said to us was that this is the plan you've given us, we'll give you this money. When Josh was here I asked the question three times about what happened if we change from the Farm Stand to the church and he said that if we changed, the money might not be there anymore. He made the point to me that 'yes, you have to reapply and there may be money there or there may not be,'" board member Logan Cooke said.
"What exactly is the error? That he said we'd have to amend versus modify our application? Or that the money is earmarked for the Farm Stand?" Parker asked Pierson.
"If we change or amend our application, we don't need to refile," Pierson answered.
"Amendments need to get approved," Cooke said.
"That's not refiling," Pierson said.
Pierson said that he wanted clarification from Hanford and asked why there should be a problem seeking that clarification.
"Are you going to ask whether the money granted to Waitsfield exists if there is not a specific location that has been identified and approved for it?" Parker said. "Is the money set aside for Waitsfield long enough for another process to go through and a new location to be found?"
"Isn't that a good reason to get clarification?" Pierson countered.
Pierson made a motion to hold the reconsideration vote on October 22 and to seek clarification from Hanford. The motion passed. The board also voted to hold a public hearing on Monday, October 21, in advance of the October 22 vote. At that meeting the public will also vote on renewing the town's agricultural tax stabilization program.
Following the September 12 meeting, Pierson sent an email to Hanford on Monday, September 16, in which he questions whether the grant exists for the town to move its town offices or whether it is location specific. His lengthy email quotes emails from Hanford and also the grant award letter.
The select board hopes to have an answer to the email by Monday, September 23.