Grafton to begin offering some cellphone coverage

By Cynthia Prairie
©Telegraph Publishing LLC

Grafton is about to enter the 21st century with better cellphone coverage, at least in the 1-mile radius around Town Hall. On Monday night, the Select Board approved a contract with Delaware-based Vanu Coverage Co., which touts itself as providing cellphone coverage in difficult-to-cover areas throughout the world.

The cost to the town is the price of electricity to power the equipment – estimated at $15 a month. The equipment, a small devise, will be placed on the back of Town Hall and will serve users of Verizon, Sprint, T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular. AT&T may come aboard later, said Kim Record, Town Clerk and treasurer.

Record added, “I had mentioned putting one of these on the town shed because we’d be using that in case of emergency.”

Select Board chair Sam Battaglino said, “I think it’s money well-spent.” While Record said, “I think this is a huge advantage for our residents,” she added “Just keep in mind that not everyone has a cellphone.” Of the small crowd of about 15 residents attending the meeting, only one said she did not have a cellphone.

Resident Liisa Kissel added that it would be a benefit to visitors to Grafton as well.

Currently, the town and the Grafton Improvement Association split the cost of a payphone on Town Hall, at a total cost of $600 per year. With the rise in cellphone ownership, the number of payphones in the United States has dropped from 1.7 million to below 250,000 by 2013, according to USA Today. Town Administrator Rachel Williams said that even with the new cellphone device, the payphone “may stay for a while, at least through the end of the year.”

She was unsure when the Vanu device would be installed and become operational.

Board reluctant to help library pay for tree removal

The Select Board decided to delay a decision on partnering with the Grafton Public Library to take down two trees on library property that are dying. A low bid on removing the maple and the pine and stumps was $1,800, with the two parties splitting the tab down the middle.

Battaglino said the town could be held liable if a tree falls into the roadway. And, he added, “The library does add a value to the community and I think that it is worth $900 from the town. We don’t want to be adversarial with the library.”

Board member Ron Pilette questioned why town government would take care of the problem.

And one resident said, “They have a million dollar endowment and they don’t want to touch it.” The library operates on a $926,000 endowment, and pays primary annual expenses of about $52,000 from that. The town budgets about $1,300 annually for the library.

Board member Nora Lee Hall said, “I think I would hold back and let the library come up with something,” to which the other board members agreed.

Long wind discussion

As usual, there was an extended discussion to clarify points about the Select Board’s involvement in the Iberdrola wind project controversy, this time centering on whether the board was truly behind allowing town residents to vote to show their approval or disapproval and when that vote would be taken. A majority of members of the board have voiced their disapproval of the wind project, which calls for 28 wind turbines on land that straddles Grafton and Windham.

Pilette said, “The Select Board is committed to a vote.” Board member Skip Lisle added, “I’m not aware of anyone not being for a vote.”

One resident suggested that Iberdrola was timing the vote for the presidential election in November 2016, although the thought of having the company “dictate the terms” of the vote set several board members on edge.

“You get a huge turnout on a presidential election,” said one resident.

Another resident suggested that the prior to any vote, residents “would have to know what the compensation to the town would be. I thought the $285,000 was a starting bid.” He was referring to an annual payment the company would make to the hosting towns that would depend on the number of wind turbines within the town. Windham, which would host the majority, would receive substantially more.

Kim Record said, “As (town) treasurer, I still feel there are a lot of questions in the number portions. … So I’m not comfortable saying that we have enough information financially.”

But then, a resident asked, “I don’t see why the Select Board is involved in this at all. There is a difference between a right and a duty. You may have a right but do you have a duty?”

Board member Lisle responded, “This is the highest duty: to protect our neighbors. I think that everyone of us whether – we are for the project or not – has the responsibility to ask pointed questions to Iberdrola. In the end, perhaps we may get rolled over by the Public Service Board.”

The project must win approval from the state PSB before it can go forward.

IN OTHER NEWS

  • The Select Board also got a quick overview of the town’s preliminary 2016 budget of $417,881, a corrected version of which will be on the town’s website on the afternoon of Wednesday, Nov. 18. Voters will vote on the budget of Monday, March 1, 2016.
  • Road Foreman Danny Taylor said that the new salt shed has arrived and will be erected on Monday, Dec. 14.
  • Record asked for a formal policy for the town to charge for making copies and faxing. The board accepted her recommendation of 10 cents a sheet for copying with a $5 maximum charge and $1 charge for faxing.
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About the Author: Cynthia Prairie has been a newspaper editor more than 30 years. She has worked at such publications as the Raleigh Times, the Baltimore News American, the Buffalo Courier Express, the Chicago Sun-Times and the Patuxent Publishing chain of community newspapers in Maryland. She and her family moved to Chester, Vermont in 2004.

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