JOHNSON SELECTBOARD MEETING MINUTES
JOHNSON MUNICIPAL BUILDING
MONDAY, AUGUST 20, 2012
Selectboard Members: Kathy Black, Nat Kinney, Doug Molde, Eric Osgood, Howard Romero
Others: Duncan Hastings (Manager), Rosemary Audibert (Clerk), Steve Smith, Lou Lertola, Lois Frey, Bob Selby, Ben Waterman, Bill McMaster, Greg Stefanski, Lea Kilvadyova
Note: All votes taken are unanimous unless otherwise noted.
1. Call to Order
Eric called the meeting to order at 7:02.
2. Review and Approve Minutes of Meetings Past
Howard moved to approve the Selectboard and Board of Civil Authority minutes of July 17 and the Selectboard minutes of August 1, with the changes that had been suggested to the July 17 Selectboard minutes. Nat seconded and the motion was passed. (Kathy arrived at 7:04.)
3. Treasurer’s Report/View and Approve Bills and Warrants
Duncan reviewed the end-of-year budget figures and discussed some suggested uses for the fund balance. He reminded the board that we have $85K budgeted for paving and at budget time we had discussed adding an additional $75K from the expected budget surplus. Howard suggested waiting until later in the meeting to make any decision about using the fund balance. Eric agreed.
4. Request to Increase Disabled Veteran Tax Exemption
Lou Lertola said Johnson currently has a $20K property tax exemption for disabled veterans. Statewide, about 219 communities provide a $40K exemption. About 2100 out of 2200 disabled veterans in Vermont are able to get a $40K exemption. He asked if the board would support increasing the exemption from $20K to $40K. Eric said the board would discuss the issue further under the Manager’s Report agenda item. (Lou Lertola left at 7:25.)
5. Treasurer’s Report/View and Approve Bills and Warrants (continued)
Rosemary reported on current and delinquent taxes.
Rosemary asked the board how to handle Pomerleau’s tax abatement. He currently has a credit balance. Kathy moved to refund to Pomerleau any tax payments beyond the total bill due for the 2012-13 tax year in light of the recently approved tax abatement, Howard seconded and the motion was passed.
6. Road Commissioner/Road Foreman Report
Steve said there has been 4.6 inches of rain since the last meeting. He got a call from someone who was concerned about the culverts on Codding Hollow Road. He agrees that at least 17 out of 18 culverts are in need of replacement. The cost to replace one culvert is about $1000, not including the cost of getting equipment to the work area. The crew has not been grading as often as usual due to the dry weather. Line striping was done last week. He got an estimate of $17K for backhoe repairs. Starting later this month there will be a 3-man crew for 3 months.
Eric said since the board has not yet changed its policy on Class 4 roads, the current policy applies. That policy says we will maintain bridges and culverts as required by state statute. However there is the question of how we will do that without maintaining the road leading to the bridges and culverts.
Duncan said we would have a hard time justifying replacing culverts on a Class 4 road when there are culverts needing replacement on Class 3 roads. Doug said people use this road. He thinks we need to think about preserving assets like this for the future of the town. What lies at the end of that road is a community asset. He thinks we need a policy that gives measured money over time to community infrastructure assets.
Eric said the issue of Class 4 roads is too big to decide tonight. We may need a special meeting to discuss it. Kathy said we need context to be able to reply to the person who complained about the culverts. The board needs to understand how big the issue is. Duncan said if the board wants to add more roads to take care of, Steve may not have enough manpower to do it. He said Class 4 roads vary from barely discernible tracks through the woods to roads like Codding Hollow. Doug said our current policy commits us to fix these culverts. Eric said our policy says we will not maintain Class 4 roads, but we would have to do road maintenance to be able to get down the road to fix the culverts. It is a bad policy. He feels we need to look at the policy first. We can’t treat one person on a Class 4 road differently from another. He will talk to Duncan about possible dates to meet for a discussion on Class 4 roads. Doug said for that meeting it would be nice to have information about all the different Class 4 roads and their issues.
Nat asked if the work needed on the backhoe has to happen regardless of whether we sell it. Steve said it needs to be done if we are going to keep it, but it can wait until after the special town meeting in September. If we sell it, we can sell it without having the work done and still get the amount of money we expected to get for it.
7. Planning Commission Report
Bob Selby said the Planning Commission didn’t meet in August. Lea applied for the grant they were seeking. They won’t know until December if they will get it. The goal is to engage expertise so they can produce some sort of thorough report assessing the entire recreation picture in Johnson.
8. Recreation Committee
Nat said soccer is starting up and gymnastics registration is open. The Recreation Committee is planning a fun run for September 1. Board members said they didn’t think the board needed to vote to approve the fun run. Duncan said we should probably notify our insurance carrier about it. Kathy suggested that in the future we could charge registration fees for fun runs to raise money. (Bob Selby left at 7:45.)
9. Manager’s Report
Duncan suggested that the town and the village share purchase of line stripe painting equipment, which would cost around $2600. The village does line striping now, but has old equipment that doesn’t work well. He thinks in the future the town will want to do its own line striping. (Ben Waterman and Bill McMaster arrived at 7:56.) Duncan suggested a 50-50 split, but Eric suggested the town pay 30% and the village 70%, since the village would be using the equipment more than the town. (Greg Stefanski arrived at 8:00.)
Duncan explained how he plans to deal with the issue of the culvert crossing Todd Demag’s property. We have no legal right or authority to clean out the swale at the outfall of the culvert. It is on private property and exposes the town to liability if we do it. Duncan feels it is not worth the risk to put a backhoe down over the steep bank there. He has no evidence that a permit was issued to connect to our culvert or to change the natural drainage course by adding fill over the pipe. Duncan plans to notify Todd that he has 45 days to provide documentation that we own the culvert or that he has permission to have attached the culvert or some other legal documentation showing that we are responsible for it. If he cannot show that, Duncan will ask him to file a permit to retroactively allow the connection for the culvert, but that permit will make him responsible for the section on his property. Or instead of requiring him to get a permit we could send him a letter (and keep a copy for our records) saying we do not own the culvert on his property and explaining what we will do if there is a problem with the culvert. Steve and Duncan agree that if the culvert fails we should move our culvert as far towards Route 15 as possible and ditch along the road to a natural swale where the water can drain off.
Duncan said he had put out a question on a listserv about what other towns are doing with muddy roads. Fourteen years ago, Charlotte started the process we are talking about, doing a section of road every year. They have been laying down 1 foot of shale ledge, putting the excavated material over it, then putting down gravel. They have now done this to all their bad sections and they have no more mud. Whether or not to build up or excavate depends on the situation. In a swampy area, we might want to build up; in an area where there are many driveways that meet the road we might want to excavate. The use of filter fabric was an integral part of mud abatement work for everyone who responded except Charlotte. (Lea arrived at 8:12.)
10. Grocery Store Survey
Ben Waterman said Mike Comeau still needs some key information to make a decision about opening a grocery store in the Grand Union building. He agrees that gauging demand would be a valuable exercise. Ben and Bill McMaster, from UVM Extension, have worked together to put together a survey design to gauge demand for grocery products. The plan is to survey 3300 people who live in surrounding towns and some people who work in the towns. Lea has previously sent out a draft scope of work and accompanying budget. Ben asked if the selectboard could authorize funding of about $6K for the survey. It could be divided into 2 portions. Part would pay for Bill McMaster’s time and part would cover the cost of materials for paper, mailings, etc. Ben is looking into using Every Day Direct Mail to send out the survey. We would indicate which routes we wanted to cover and the post office would address the envelopes. It is yet to be determined how much return postage will cost. Duncan said we could use bulk rate on the return envelopes because the town has bulk rate. Bill said it depends on how quickly we want to get them back.
Ben distributed copies of the draft survey. Duncan said it was notable to him that Hyde Park wasn’t included in the survey sample, at least North Hyde Park. Bill said this is a draft plan. They would work with the local community and could include Hyde Park and/or North Hyde Park if people feel it should be included. Duncan asked if there is anything on the survey about the possibility of the store including a state liquor outlet or pharmacy. Bill said he doesn’t think so; that’s why he needs to work with local people, to make sure questions like that are included. Duncan said Mike would like to have a state liquor outlet, but it might be a hurdle to get VT Liquor Control to authorize that. If we had a survey showing that many people want a state liquor store in Johnson it might help.
Howard moved and Kathy seconded to authorize expenditure of up to $6023.50 for a grocery store survey. Doug asked how the survey group will reach the people who work here but don’t live here. Ben said there would be a team who would show up in person at places of business to give people the surveys. Kathy asked if there is any strategy to take advantage of Smuggler’s Notch. She thinks that is a population that can be tapped. Eric said Mike was interested in how much business he might be able to get from people traveling on Route 15. Bill said we can get traffic counts from different roads and data on how much is spent within the market area on groceries. He said getting information about potential business from Smuggler’s Notch is a whole other kind of survey. But expenditures data would include people from Smuggler’s Notch. He said his software will let us do cross tabulations, for instance by income. Duncan said he thinks more money will be needed if we want to add Hyde Park. Howard and Kathy agreed to amend the motion to make the amount not to exceed $6500.
Bill said we will want to have a lot of eyes look at the survey. Ben said UVM should have a contract for the town soon, but we don’t have to wait for that to get the survey designed. We can convene a community group to work on that. Greg asked if the scope of the work allows for organizations such as Laraway or Johnson State College to respond to the survey. Bill said he thought that was a good point. Doug asked how the focus group to develop the survey will be formed. Ben said he thinks we should try to solicit volunteers. We can put a notice on Front Porch Forum and invite people from the selectboard, Johnson Works, etc. They are hoping to be done by October 31. They want the survey finalized by September 1. Howard and Kathy further amended the motion to add that the board authorizes Duncan or Eric to sign a contract with UVM Extension for the survey. (Bill left at 8:39.)
11. Main Street Celebration
Greg Stefanski said he had come on behalf of Johnson Works. They are planning a celebration of the end of the Main Street project. On August 28 there will be a brief ceremony on the Village Green, then the celebration will move over to Legion Field, where Tuesday Night Live will be taking place. There will be local artists doing sculptures, a bouncy house, and a kids’ art activity. There will be a raffle. Details are still being worked out, but it has been suggested that people could win “Johnson dollars” that could be used at local businesses. Everyone who has been a part of the Main Street project has been invited, including Senator Leahy and his staff. At the event, flyers will be handed out with information about Johnson Works and a list of all the businesses along Main Street, with a link to the town website that lists all businesses in Johnson. Board members are invited to the ceremony and the festivities. The trustees have offered $200 to help fund the even and some people have made personal donations. He hopes the selectboard could authorize up to $200. Kathy moved and Doug seconded to authorize expenditure of up to $200 to help fund the Main Street construction celebration. (Greg left at 8:48.)
12. Manager’s Report (continued)
Duncan said the board’s past position about the disabled veteran tax exemption has been that if any Johnson resident wants to start a petition or just come before the board to request that the exemption be increased, the board would be open to considering it. Local residents who are veterans and who were approached in recent years about the issue were not inclined to approach the board to ask for expansion of the exemption or to start a petition. When the legislature authorized expansion of the exemption from $20K to $40K it did not increase the state share, so local taxpayers would need to pick it up. Because of that and because local veterans were not interested in taking initiative to request expansion of the exemption, the board has previously declined to take action on its own, though it would listen to taxpayers who made a request. Lou Lertola is not a Johnson resident. He wants to get every town to raise the exemption to at least $40K. The state’s share is $10K. Taxpayers have to apply for the exemption. The number of Johnson residents who get it is about 3-4. The board agreed not to consider increasing the exemption if local residents are not interested in pursuing it.
The board discussed the suggestions Duncan had presented for using the fund balance. Howard moved and Doug seconded to follow the suggested year end adjustments on the spreadsheet Duncan had submitted, including a transfer to the recreation fund, with the exception that the suggested amount to be applied to highway mud abatement will be reduced by $2635 and that amount will be applied to the grocery survey. (See attached spreadsheet showing approved adjustments.)
Duncan said when the draft language he proposed for the special town meeting was last discussed, a concern brought up was what David Williams would think about it. Duncan emailed him and he said he was comfortable with the proposed language.
Nat moved and Howard seconded to warn a special town meeting for Thursday, September 27 at 7:00 pm in the upstairs room of the Town Clerk’s Office, with Duncan’s proposed language to be used for the warning.
Duncan said Under the Wings Back Pack Program had sent a request for a contribution, with no specific amount mentioned. They buy backpacks and give them to kids who can’t afford them. It was agreed that the selectboard is not the right group to fund this program.
Duncan said he has learned that the law now allows us to turn unpaid tickets over to a collection agency. In addition, unpaid tickets can be deducted from a person’s income tax refund. It is retroactive, so we do not have to do anything about the backlog, except file for enforcement in the case of the illegal dumping cases.
The board agreed that we should get an injunction against Kurt Herrmann’s neighbor. Doug said he thinks that would be enforced by sanctions. Duncan said based on his discussion with Dave Barra, he would draft the injunction to include the ability of the town to effect cleanup and recoup costs from the property owner. It is not known whether the court will grant that. The solid waste district makes mini-grants of up to $500 available to towns for illegal dumping cleanup. We might be able to apply for a grant to clean up this site.
We still need a new appointment to the solid waste board. Duncan said the vacancy was posted on Front Porch Forum by someone else and he got one response.
Duncan said Carmine Sargent sent a letter about the property at 75 VT Rte 100C that was damaged by fire. She proposes that if the building is razed, the town should purchase the lot to be used as a small park or to expand the cemetery. Her family would make a donation (amount unspecified) toward the project. Eric said he has talked to Kelly Ford (the property owner) and the Sargents. If Hot Tamale’s insurance pays for the building, Kelly might donate the property to Habitat for Humanity or might donate it to the town. But if Hot Tamale’s insurance does not pay for it, the bank will own it soon. The bank would probably put it up for sale for what the lot is worth. The board agreed that Duncan should let Carmine Sargent know that the board has discussed her proposal and ask her to provide more details, such as the donation amount they have in mind.
Doug moved and Kathy seconded to authorize Eric to sign the letter supporting the bike-pedestrian path grant application and the motion was passed.
Kathy moved and Howard seconded to sign the resolution necessary for the Planning Commission to move forward with the Municipal Planning Grant application and the motion was passed.
Duncan asked how often the board would like to review his “To Do” list. The board agreed they would like to see it quarterly.
The line striping work has been done. Due to a miscommunication between Steve and Duncan, some striping was done that was not planned, adding a couple of thousand to the cost. Duncan said the lines will last for about a year. Nat asked if line striping should be done earlier in the spring. Duncan said, ideally, yes.
Duncan said regarding the dirt bike noise issue, he looked back in minutes and contacted Roger Marcoux. There was an agreement signed by the two parties which lasted for one year. It was not renewed and is no longer enforceable. That is why the sheriff’s department is no longer enforcing it.
A village employee reading meters was bitten by a chained dog when he reached down to let the dog sniff his hand. The dog was up to date on shots. The employee went to the emergency room and is fine now.
Nat asked for an update on the noise issue the Lehouillers brought up last month. Duncan said he communicated with Roger Marcoux about the board’s position that the Lehouillers’ irrigation activities are not subject to the noise ordinance. As far as he knows, no one from the sheriff’s department has responded to irrigation noise complaints about the Lehouillers since then.
13. Selectboard Issues/Concerns
Doug said he thinks we should have Duncan research or ask Dave Barra about any state regulations on establishing rifle ranges. He thinks the board should be up to speed on that. For instance, we could research definitions of public and private ranges. Rifle range use may fit into our noise ordinance.
Doug said during the next legislative session he would like to see if it is possible to get a statute in that would allow municipalities to deal with derelict housing. He doesn’t think there is currently any state authorization for taking down a derelict building for other than health reasons. Duncan said some zoning regulations try to do that through zoning. Howard agreed with Doug that such a statute would be a good idea.
Howard said he thinks it seems likely that Fisher Auto Parts will want to put a bigger store on their property. Fisher Auto Parts stores typically have parking against the street, which is not what we want. He will try to talk to people at their headquarters in Virginia and tell them what we would like to see: the front of the store in line with other buildings on Main Street. We don’t have zoning, so we can’t enforce that, but we can get a dialog going. Duncan said if they put the building at the front of the property, it needs to be far enough back to be sure it is out of the highway right of way. He said most of the buildings along that part of Main Street have porches or steps in the right of way.
Eric suggested looking into how Eden dealt with a problem firing range they had in the past.
The meeting was adjourned at 9:51.
Minutes submitted by Donna Griffiths