May not be actionable
Waitsfield Select Board receives another water petition
A petition from Waitsfield voters calling for a “time out” on the town’s municipal water project may not be actionable, according to the Vermont secretary of state’s office.
The petition asks the select board to suspend work on the municipal water project that is currently under construction. A staff person at the Vermont secretary of state’s office said that asking the board to take action on a bond vote that has been approved, that has resulted in contracts being solicited and awarded, is something the town cannot do. The vote that led to the bond that led to the contracts and the commencement of work is something that cannot be undone via voters petitioning.
The petition was submitted to the select board at its April 25 meeting with over 100 signatures. The petition asks the select board to call a special town meeting to vote on three articles:
1. 1) Shall the town prepare a revised [water] project proposal for voters to vote on?
2. 2) Shall the town suspend project construction pending the outcome of a vote on the revised proposal?
3. 3) Shall the town cease its efforts to condemn land owned by Jean R. Damon and Virginia Houston until such time as the voters approve the revised project?
“Basically, what we’re asking for is, with signatures from 100 people in town, is that we have a little bit of a time out and step back and have this revisited,” said petition spokesperson Anne Vlahos.
“We’ve come here quite a few times to let you know that this has moved in a way that has made people uncomfortable, so much so that they put their names on a petition. We’re here to present that and find out what the next steps might be,” Vlahos.
At the meeting, select board members thanked the petitioners for their effort and noted that the signatures must be verified and also noted that the petition would need to be run by the town’s attorney and the Vermont secretary of state’s office to see if the petition is worded in such a way that it can be voted on.
In addition to calling for the town to cease work on the contracts that went out to bid, the petition calls for the select board to cease its negotiations with two landowners whose property is also subject to condemnation to provide land for the water project. In December, the town entered into negotiations with Damon and Houston attempting to purchase two to three acres of land around Reed Road. Those negotiations are continuing. Concurrently, in December the town began the process of condemnation of that land and, after a January 31 hearing, filed its final paperwork with the court on the project. The landowners appealed the finding that there is a necessity for the water and currently a judge’s ruling on the necessity appeal as well as the final valuation of the land is expected.
At the Vermont secretary of state’s office, the same staffer said, “There are Supreme Court cases that have held that where the decision making on a topic is delegated specifically to a select board by statute, then the electorate cannot petition the board as to how to make such decisions.”
Land acquisition and condemnation, by Vermont statute, fall under the purview of select boards.
Waitsfield is in the midst of constructing a $7.6 million municipal water project. The project was planned around a well drilled in the right of way of Reed Road which the town asserted was a town road. Last fall, challenged by Houston and Damon, a court ruled that the town had not proven that it was a town road and said the town needed to move forward to purchase or condemn the land.
Prior to that November ruling, work began on the water project in October, after bids were awarded in September. Voters approved the bond for the project in November of 2008. The project will supply water to Waitsfield, Irasville, Old County Road and Tremblay Road.
The select board will consider the petition at its next meeting. Prior to Town Meeting, the select board received a petition calling for shifting the costs of the water project from system users to all taxpayers. That petition was to be discussed at Town Meeting on March 1. Petitioners tried to recall that petition before Town Meeting but missed the deadline. On March 1, that item was moved over by the moderator.