Washington Selectboard Special Meeting
Thursday, July 13, 2023
Selectboard: Chair Sheila Duranleau, AJ Galfetti, Fred Blanchard
Town Employees: Harry Roush, Josh Bell, Nick Benoit, Lois Deberville, Anna Strong
Visitors: Bill Durbrow, Ethan Pratt, Jesse Lambert, Jen Lambert, Rob Dupuis, Bill Lyon
Zoom: Nick Bresette, Rachel Onuf, Ben Tiefenthaler, Sarah Teel, Michele/G&N
- Chair Duranleau called the meeting to order at 6:38 p.m.
- Adjustments to the agenda/public comment: minutes of last meeting, historical review of Buswell property, Weeden Cemetery, plans for upcoming weather conditions
- Bill Durbrow on Weeden Cemetery: gave a brief history of the Weeden Cemetery. Physical evidence on the ground along with ground penetrating radar results, it appears the cemetery is at full capacity. Over years of neglect many if not most of the gravestones have been removed leaving us a void which will be difficult to recover. The goal is to locate where the people have been buried. Previous ground penetrating radar located many of the graves, but we don’t know who the people are. The goal is to someday be able to identify the people. In 1986 work began on cleaning up the cemetery, a survey of the parcel was completed by Jon Abts in 2015 and is recorded in the town office. Bill is asking that we place four granite corner posts with the thought of lasting 200 years or so, aluminum burial markers, and the ground penetrating radar cost be appropriated from the ARPA funds. Taking care of a cemetery shows a lot about the town. Chair Duranleau supports the concept, it can be put on the ARPA list of possible expenditures.
- Fred made motion to accept the minutes of the June 27, 2023, selectboard meeting, 2nd by AJ, carried by ayes.
- Assessment Grievances update: Harry reported that the listers had no one file an appeal or make appointment for grievances. One lady came in to have the procedure explained.
- Set 2023 tax rate: The district advisor will help roll over the grand list, at which point the town tax rate can be set, but waiting on him/her to get back to Harry.
- Chair Duranleau suggested that we consider pushing the 1st tax installment from August 15 to September 15 due to state of emergency as well as not having the tax rate set. AJ asked about paying contractors, Nick asked what ones is he worried about and said Avery and Jeff Moran are both understanding and willing to work with us while waiting on FEMA funds. AJ and Fred wondered about the pits and other vendors. Harry agreed with waiting to put out the 1st tax bill on the ethics of it: sending a tax bill while residents are having to deal with damages.
Chair said she’s not suggesting pushing out the November due date. Motion made by Fred to change the date of the 1st installment of the 2023 taxes to September 15, 2023, 2nd by Sheila, carried by ayes.
Fred asked about the tax rate. Harry: has to roll the grand list over and when he does he’ll have the total amount of value in town, divide that into the amount voted on at town meeting, and that will generate the municipal tax rate so the tax bills can be printed. Chair asked what definition of ‘roll the grand list over’. Harry: grand list book runs April 1-March 30 statutorily, at which time the listers close the grand list book and don’t make any more changes.
Anna (town treasurer) General funds saving=$108,694. Reappraisal savings:12,115. Cemetery savings: 5677. ARPA: 254,918. Debra Blanchard Scholarship Fund: 36,924. Hands Mill: 10,320. Recreation savings: 4108. Records and Restoration: 3871. These are not figures from the Quick Book accounts as it wouldn’t open. Chair asked if the cemetery funds could be used for the Weeden Cemetery project. Fred: the three cemetery commissioners would need to discuss it. All the service providers have been paid as of June 30. AJ asked about the employment tax issues, Anna said 100% cleared up as much as can be. Town is looking at around $22,000 owed to the federal government, the accountants are working on getting some forgiveness. A big chunk of this is penalty and sometimes a one-time payment can be made with reduced penalty. Sheila thanked Anna for her great job, Anna is hoping for more time to work on it and looks forward to getting it all to a good place and then elicit some help.
- Infrastructure damage update and FEMA funding criteria: Chair asked Nick for update. Nick: almost one lane passable through the whole town, Williamstown will be complete one lane tomorrow weather dependent, got across the bridge at Poor Farm Road, he walked a mile up to see what the landslide looked like, the only roads left without a single lane will be to the top of South Poor Farm Road and the Williamstown Road is currently blocked by machines, can cross with truck but not cars. Sky Acres Road you can get in to, other roads are one lane. Notch Road is passable, he got more cones today, just barely established one passable lane. AJ asked if he’d been to the south end of Pepper Road, Nick has not in last few days other than once. Stellar is passable to the first house with pickup truck.
AJ: do we have anyone stuck that we know about? Nick: not stuck, isolated. Folks on Johnson were isolated not stuck, can get out now. (isolated=can get to them on foot). Next to address is Corinth Corners and Pepper RD.
Jesse Lambert: do we have a plan? Nick: yes, to get there, still in mode that we need to be able to get there, has a list of what is safe to get to (via fire department’s evaluation).
Chair: have to stay within FEMA guidelines in order to get funds, must be temporary (bumpy) and doing the minimum required to get people through.
Jesse said we have 72 hours to respond to get 100% reimbursement funds. Chair: that’s not true (according to her research)
AJ asked Nick where he left off with Tim Ward. (re: Williamstown RD) Ward wants to get 2 lanes through there because that would become the new 110. Nick said he’s got one lane, now working by the painted rocks.
Jesse: using the 72 hours as hypothetical, do we have the documentation of what was purchased and the work force during that time. Chair: people know we need before/after pictures, other documentations. Fred and AJ were clear in letting the people hired know that is all needed.
Jen Lambert: what is normal turnaround time for FEMA. Harry: 6 months. We’ve done two, each one took 5-6 months. Jesse: how does that work for stone purchase? Harry: we pay it. Fred: we usually have to borrow money.
AJ addressed Bill Lyon, Chelsea selectboard member, and asked if he has heard about the 72 hours from FEMA, Lyon said no.
Jesse: I offered to help with all my stuff and I was denied. Chair: I’m not going to let this conversation go down a rabbit hole where it gets negative, we are in a state of emergency and people are doing the best they can, if you have something to offer and we need it we can talk about conditions. Jesse spoke of riding around with AJ to check on roads. Josh Bell: not with a contractor, we have an adopted conflict of interest policy. Jesse: I am not a contractor for hire for any excavating work if I choose to say so. He discussed a conversation with a lady who couldn’t get out and he had offered to do the job, made a plan, was in process of executing it when told couldn’t do it. Now job has been subbed out. Curious why in disaster you would turn people away, said he had given his word to the lady. He was disappointed, said had stuff to offer and was turned away.
AJ: said “I was not out to seek work for myself in any way”, that after work he went to check roads and Jesse was with him, there’s 20 feet of road out and a raging river he can’t hear himself over, he heard there were 15-20 people needing help, his townspeople, it wasn’t self-interest. As highway supervisor he wasn’t told they were stuck. When he was told another contractor might be available, AJ told him to go do the job.
Discussion on the emergency coordinator getting a state call about those people, Harry and Ryan Bresette had already taken them up gas for their generators. AJ: had I known that in the morning, we would’ve taken care of those people.
Chair: we can all second guess and look back, I think everybody did what they could in the moment, the board and town need a better system of communication, and (also) on our emergency management plan.
AJ: I met with Nick Tuesday night, we came up with a good plan, I asked that we stick to the plan, we wrote it out, please stay in touch we have to update as it goes. I had hired Tim Ward on the Williamstown RD. We have 1500 yards of material on town property we could’ve utilized, throughout the day I get no communication from the foreman. Nick: that material is junk, I get we are in the state of emergency. That material is poor quality. Fred: we can’t get enough rock to fill those big holes, we have to use what we got. We’ve got to fill the holes asap.
AJ: regarding bid opening-Chair recused herself. Fred questioned opening or re-do. AJ had already talked to all the contractors and asked them if they were confident in their bids now that things have changed. He addressed Bill Lyon who was submitting a bill. Agreement that there will be a new pre-bid meeting date of July 21, 2023, at 7 a.m. for the ones who had already bid.
Chair: St. Albans has offered to help, Nick has reached out to them. Lois: Bradford as well. Nick unfamiliar if it’s volunteer, working that direction as they are closer.
Chair: we need to hire someone to be our FEMA coordinator, Harry said FEMA will reimburse for that, suggested Sullivan Powers & Co.
Nick Bresette via Zoom: need to come up with what roles AJ and Nick have, multiple people making multiple decisions, should have one contact person. Thinks all are doing a great job.
Ben on Zoom: thanked everyone in the room, if need someone to help call on him. Western part of Woodchuck Hollow Ext is still pretty badly gouged. Just wanted to update that.
Chair asked about motion to hire Sullivan Powers & Co. to co-ordinate disaster information (photos, documents). Anna suggested reaching out to Vermont Emergency Management for help on a coordinator. Chair has been researching, everyone is reaching out to the same people. Fred and AJ think it’s best to hire Sullivan Powers & Co. Motion made by AJ to attempt to hire them, 2nd by Fred, carried by ayes.
- Orange County Sheriff’s Contract: Chair said OCS has already billed the town for 11 hours without a signed contract, town will not pay for that. 4 hours gives us nothing, George has not responded to her phone calls. AJ: who else would we call, we go from 4 to nobody. Harry asked if anyone has tried Washington County Sheriff, Chair will call tomorrow to inquire. OCS is invoicing us on a contract that was not signed by the town. Fred made a motion that we not enter into OCS contract and that we explore other options, 2nd by AJ, carried by ayes.
(2 continued) Historical Review of Buswell Property: Harry said we had to do historic review before deconstructing the property. Everything inside is 4-5 feet deep. If we make decision not to clean out the whole building and it’s reflected within the selectboard minutes, then we don’t need historic review before we destroy it. AJ made motion that we don’t clean the building out before destroying it, 2nd by Fred, carried by ayes.
Rob Dupuis: anyone know when 110 will be opened. Nick said he had asked them to find another route due to water spot at Carrier/Hyland road, so that held them up a little bit.
- Executive Session: everyone was asked to leave, Nick asked if he could stay and was told not during the session but he would be called back in. Recorder turned off. Josh Bell turned in his town keys and quit when he was told he could not go into executive session with Nick.
Out of executive session: Fred made motion to terminate Nick Benoit as road foreman, 2nd by AJ, carried by ayes. AJ will give written notice to Nick in the morning if he finds him.
Fred made motion to adjourn at 8:09 p.m., 2nd by AJ, carried by ayes.
Respectfully submitted: Lois Deberville, Town Clerk
This is a draft copy which will be amended and/or accepted at the next selectboard meeting.