Next year at Town Meeting, Waitsfield voters will be asked to authorize the town borrowing money to rebuild Joslin Hill Road. This is a major infrastructure repair that will cost upwards of $1 million or $1.5 million. The road is seriously degraded and can barely be plowed.
Before the town embarks on this massive and expensive infrastructure project, it had the opportunity to study whether or not pedestrian and bike safety on the road could be improved. That road is heavily used by kids riding to school and is currently very dangerous.
The town had already expended the efforts of its town administrator to obtain an 80/20 matching grant to do the study. The town's share was $8,000. The town administrator had already spent time getting the study out to bid and a pre-bid meeting was slated for this week.
The select board this week voted to reject the grant. At the meeting, which was very well attended, members of the public protested the select board's actions, questioning whether or not the board was subverting the will of the voters. Townspeople concerned about safety on that road and others in town had worked with the select board to see if it could be addressed prior to the road rebuild. Hence, the grant application.
At Town Meeting this year, voters passed the town budget that included the $8,000 for the town's share of the study. In the minds of many, the question of studying whether or not the road could be made safer for pedestrians prior to the big dig had been asked and answered.
According to Vermont Deputy Secretary of State Brian Leven, voters authorize their towns to spend up to a ceiling of spending when they approve budgets, so legally, this iteration of the select board, in once again trying to undo the work and decisions of previous boards, has not broken the law. But they have violated the public trust.
Repeatedly rejecting as irrelevant the work of previous public officials is bad form and bad policy. And in this case, it is just bad planning to spend this kind of money and not conduct a feasibility study on improving pedestrian safety.