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Washington Selectboard Special Meeting 3/28/24

Washington Selectboard Special Meeting

March 28, 2024

Draft Page 1

In attendance:

Selectboard: Josh Bell, Sheila Duranleau (Chair), AJ Galfetti

Officers: Scott Blanchard (treasurer/delinquent tax collector), Peter Carbee (assistant town clerk), Lois Deberville (town clerk), Ben Tiefenthaler (FEMA admin), Leona Grearson (auditor), Billy Donovan (lister), Susan Davis (lister)

  1. Chair called meeting to order at 6:34 p.m.
  2. Josh made motion to adopt the minutes of the March 12, 2024, regular selectboard meeting, 2nd by AJ, ayes carried. AJ made the motion to adopt the minutes of the March 19, 2024, special selectboard meeting, 2nd by Josh, ayes carried.
  3. Adjustments to the agenda requested by Leona and Susan.
    1. Leona asked for information so she can gain some details on the following: copies of or access to any/all written/practiced/adopted practices, contact information for all town boards/committee members who have budgetary duties/expense approval, delinquent taxpayer project of 2023, recreational board financial reports.
    1. Susan on getting someone to help (listers)
    1. AJ on highway department personnel, and a grant to discuss.
    1. Sheila on FY25 grant and aid opportunity, and a July 21, 2023 order for reappraisal
  4. Public comments on issues not on the agenda:
    1. Billy asked for a sexual harassment policy, mentioned something he witnessed. Sheila said town has a sexual harassment policy, they will review it.
    1. Billy talked about Facebook posts from a resident who is also a town official, ‘trying to whip up sentiment against the listers doing their job’. He thinks that should be covered under a code of conduct/ethics policy. The town does have such a policy which he says is not up to date. Sheila will add to May agenda. Leona offered to look at and work on a sexual harassment policy. Billy said in the post there was a call to violence against him.  He reported it to the Orange County Sheriff’s Department, and Orange County Restorative Justice. He said the OCRJ would come to talk at a board meeting. Sheila said the board has nothing to do with and has no authority over peoples’ personal Facebook posts, Billy agreed, but said there’s a kind of micro-culture in town. Discussion on how people have to follow their own advice and suggestions.
  5. Passed over till end of meeting
  6. Special town meeting:
    1. Proposed budget: have to post the warning by April 2, will have the meeting on May 11, 2024, 2 p.m.
    1. How town does the voting on public petition: currently the town has to resolve these by floor vote, does board want to propose that we do it by Australian rather than floor vote.
    1. Does the town want to expand the selectboard from three to five members.

Discussion initiated by Billy on should the board meet more than one time a month, current selectboard members do not want to.

Draft Page 2 of 2

After discussion by the board on pros and cons, the motion was made and passed by ayes to add the petition and selectboard expansion items to the budget meeting.

  • Adjustments:
    • Grants in Aid letter of intent has to be signed by May 10.
    • July 23, 2023, order for reappraisal: will be given to the listers. Discussion on how it will be years before it needs to be done, such as with every other town. Susan said they are in talks with towns of Chelsea, Tunbridge and Orange on sharing assessor fees.
    • Susan wanted permission from the selectboard on hiring John McNeil (Orange lister) at $20/hour for 3 hours a week to help them. The selectboard said they do not need the selectboard’s permission to spend the lister budget as long as they stay within that budget.

5.            FY25 revised proposed budget: each selectboard member discussed their individual proposed budget, along with Scott’s suggestions, and they have a budget proposal ready to present to the town.

The ARPA money would have up to $165,000 allocated to highway and other personnel in FY24, and the balance obligated as revenue for personnel cost in FY25. Motion by AJ, 2nd by Josh, ayes carried.

                Chad (Sullivan Powers & Co.) will update the budget sheet and get it back to the selectboard members.

                $996,735.00 could be the final number, adding approximate $48,000 obligated ARPA money.

                Discussion initiated by Ben on how best to present the budget at the May 11, 2024, allowing for conversations on what makes the budget what it is expense-wise, and how to speak to voters’ concerns.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

                AJ reported that Elwin will be leaving after mud season. An ad will be placed for a full-time road crew member, with some overlap between Elwin and the new hire.

Last summer’s grant application’s subsequent approval has to be signed to accept it for clearing on Hart Hollow Road. There is no match.

                AJ made the motion to adjourn at 8:16 p.m., 2nd by Josh, ayes carried.

Attest: Lois Deberville, Town Clerk

The next regular selectboard meeting is scheduled for May 7, 2024, 6:30 p.m. at the town hall.

This is a draft subject to amendment/approval at a future selectboard meeting.

Author of the following letter asked that it be attached to the minutes.

March 28, 2024

Maria Royle, Esq.

273 Back Pasture Lane

Washington, VT 05675

Re: ATV Ordinance; Town Budget; Potential Litigation Costs

Dear Washington Selectboard Members:

First and foremost, thank you for your public service on behalf of our town. I’m sure it is often a thankless and challenging job, and I appreciate the work you do.

I oppose the recently adopted ATV Ordinance but, more importantly, its potential impact on the town budget. As illustrated by ongoing litigation in the Town of Gorham, NH, your new ordinance may give rise to a lawsuit; a potential monetary award to one or more successful plaintiffs, including attorney’s fees; and decreased property values. Any one of these things could result in a substantial expense to Washington taxpayers.

Since January, I have come to better understand the significant burden existing ATV traffic has had on some of our community members in terms of noise, exhaust fumes, dust, unlawful operation, threatening personal behavior, and safety risks. Presumably, the increased traffic permitted by the new ordinance coupled with the absence of any mitigation efforts or meaningful enforcement will only increase this burden.

For these reasons, it would not be surprising if one or more homeowners seek legal recourse. After all, the quiet use and enjoyment of one’s private property is probably one of the few things we can all agree is a fundamental and reasonable expectation.

Both the U.S. and VT Constitutions protect property owners from the government “taking” their private property for public use without just compensation. A “taking” is not limited to a physical taking of land. It can arise from a substantial interference with the use or enjoyment of one’s property caused by governmental action; otherwise known as a “regulatory taking.” The Gorham case helps to clarify and frame the issue.

In 2018, six years ago, several homeowners in Gorham filed suit against the town and the state, and they have been embroiled in an “inverse condemnation” proceeding ever since. Essentially, the homeowners alleged that town and state decisions to open certain roads and trails to ATV use ruined their quiet enjoyment of their homes and constituted an unconstitutional taking of their rights as property owners.

A NH Superior Court Judge ruled in favor of the homeowners on the merits. The Judge found that there had been an unconstitutional taking stemming from the “unbearable environment” caused by ATVs; however, damages were not awarded because property values had actually increased. The case is currently on appeal with the NH Supreme Court.

By 2022, the Town had accumulated about $70,000 in attorney’s fees. To date, the plaintiffs have accumulated about $420,000 in attorney’s fees and costs. Depending on the final outcome of the case, Gorham taxpayers may have to bear the costs of both, in addition to any damages (loss in property value) that may be awarded to the homeowners.

The Gorham case is a reasonable illustration of how such a situation may play out here and, for that reason, is worth consideration by us all. Arguably, the impact of increased ATV traffic will be more acute here in our rustic community. Gorham is, in comparison, a bustling commercial district situated along U.S. Route 2, a heavily traveled truck route.

As explained by the VT Supreme Court, the purpose of the Takings Clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is to bar Government from forcing some people alone to bear public burdens which, in all fairness and justice, should be borne by the public as a whole. Ondovchik v. Agency of Transportation, 187 Vt. 556 (2010); Armstrong v. U.S., 364 U.S. 40 (1960). If the majority votes to take something from individuals in our community, then the majority should be willing to pay for it.

Requiring some of our neighbors, against their will, to shoulder the burden on their quiet enjoyment of their property so that Washington can serve as an ATV destination or an ATV thoroughfare connecting various portions of the larger statewide VASA network for riders who don’t even live here implicates, if not contravenes the fairness and justice principles underlying the Takings Clause.

I doubt very much anyone in our community wants to be involved in expensive and protracted litigation. I would not, however, begrudge any community member or members for taking legal action to protect what rightfully belongs to them and may be their most valuable asset and, in some cases, has been in their family for generations.

I encourage you to seek legal advice from a trial attorney and request an estimate for legal fees and litigation expenses to defend a lawsuit against the town. A link to relevant court documents in the Gorham case is below.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Best regards,

Maria Royle, Esq.

cc: Town Clerk Lois Deberville

Court orders in Stearns v. Town of Gorham, Docket No. 214-2018-CV-30, can be found here

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