Petition complicates land purchase for Londonderry Select Board

Vermont State Police Lt. Tim Oliver, foreground, and Peter Pagnucco of the Londonderry Policing Committee talk about the contract that voters approved at Town Meeting. Photos by Cynthia Prairie

Vermont State Police Lt. Tim Oliver, foreground, and Peter Pagnucco of the Londonderry Policing Committee talk about the contract that voters approved at Town Meeting. ON THE COVER: Lt. Tim Oliver answers questions from an audience member on Monday night. Photos by Cynthia Prairie and Shawn Cunningham

By Christopher Biddle
© 2016 Telegraph Publishing LLC

A petition by Londonderry resident Tom Cavanagh to call a special meeting to reconsider the Town Meeting vote approving $10,000 for a feasibility study toward the purchase of land to be used as a gravel pit and for a salt storage facility has put the project in limbo.

Londonderry Select Board chair Jim Ameden said Monday night that he believed the petition, which calls for a special meeting to reconsider the vote on Tuesday March 1, allowing the town to spend $10,000 on a feasibility study to purchase land on Route 100, south of the town’s transfer station, would get the necessary 65 signatures.

In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Cavanagh said that as of 2 p.m. — less than 24 hours after starting the petition drive — he had 35 signatures.

Cavanagh said that his frustration stemmed from not realizing that “tabling” an article at town meeting allows for its reintroduction once another article has been voted on.

As he understood it, tabling Article 11, which asked the voters to approve the $150,000 purchase, meant that either a special meeting was required or the Select Board would have to wait until next year’s town meeting before any further decisions were made. After Cavanagh and many others left Town Meeting, Article 11 was re-introduced and amended to cover only the cost of the feasibility study, which was approved by the remaining voters.

“Dirty politics” was the phrase Cavanagh used to describe how he felt the board had handled the vote.

Ameden said Monday night that he was certain Cavanagh would get all the signatures he needed, and advised the board that they’d likely have to prepare for a special meeting.

Board member Steve Prouty, who’s been a strong supporter of the proposed purchase, said that the landowners gave him a vague deadline of about a month or two before they would no longer work with the town. Board member Paul Gordon noted that, with legal waiting periods between warning the meeting and when it’s eventually held, the town may lose its opportunity to purchase the land. The property, which is assessed at $90,000 was sold at auction late last year for $49,000. It was offered to the town by the winner bidder and negotiated down from $160,000 to $150,000 according to a statement made by select board chair Jim Ameden at this year’s town meeting.

Select Board chair Jim Ameden signs the VSP contract for 25 hours of patrol a week.

Select Board chair Jim Ameden signs the VSP contract for 25 hours of patrol a week.

Cathy Aragi spoke as a member of the audience on Monday in her first Select Board meeting since losing re-election to Will Reed, who was not in attendance.

“If you want to move forward on this, if you’re really serious and you want to do something, you need to get a contract signed and or established or you need to give (the landowners) your terms,” said Aragi. She also said that Londonderry residents want to know the reasons for the purchase and that they can get out of the contract if the feasibility study highlights any problems. “If the contract gets accepted by both parties and their attorneys, now you have something to work with,” said Aragi

Ameden said that he was hesitant to begin work on a contract in light of the petition. Currently, Londonderry stores its salt and sand at a Vermont Department of Transportation facility, but according to Road Foreman Duane Hart, Vtrans will likely end that relationship after next winter. That would mean that Londonderry will have to rely on its Plan B if the proposed purchase does not go through. Ameden said that the town owns property that would still not need engineering and design plans for salt and sand storage.

Copies of the petition can be found at Jelley’s Liquor Store and the Mobile gas station in  Londonderry.

Board signs VSP contract

The board signed the voter approved contract with the Vermont State Police for 25 hours per week of policing in the town. Policing Committee chairman Peter Pagnucco presented the board with an addendum that outlined the type of policing that VSP would practice.

State Police Lt. Tim Oliver stressed the flexibility o f the contract. “We’ll create whatever program you folks and we feel will be successful.” But, he added, “We’re not coming into your town to create a speed trap.”

The contract did not include a requested 30-day grace period in which the town may change its mind, because, according Oliver, the VSP does not want to set a precedent for individualized contracts for towns. However, he assured the board, “With that said, within 30 days, you want to pull out, we pull out.”

Pagnucco highlighted a change in the contract to include a maximum of $86,000 since the hourly rate had increased by $2. The maximum works out to slightly less than 25 hours a week, but Oliver again assured the board, “We’ll get you 25 hours. I’ve got two troopers living in town now, and they’ll give you well more than that.”

The next public meeting of the Londonderry Policing Committee is scheduled for March 31 at the Twitchell town office building.

  • In other news, the board signed a contract with Efficiency Vermont to move forward on an approved street-light project for the use of LED lighting and
  • The board gave the go-ahead to Esther Fishman, the town’s Transfer Station manager, for the purchase of a new computer and software not to exceed $1,500.
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About the Author: Christopher Biddle is a journalist, radio DJ and lifelong Vermonter. He hosts the 9 to 11 a.m. Sunday Rewind show on 102.7 WEQX. In addition to The Chester Telegraph and The Mountain Times he has written for other local publications. His audio work includes stories for VPR and Slate Magazine's podcast network. He collects VHS tapes and knows how to use a chainsaw.

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  1. Kelly says:

    If the land is assessed at $90,000, why on Earth would the town buy it for $150,000 knowing full well it would then need a study and permits?

  2. Cynthia Prairie says:

    What we understand is that the VSP schedules will be tightly guarded between the Londonderry policing panel and the VSP and those schedules will change to avoid the sort of “crime scheduling” problem that you foresee.

  3. Maya Drummond says:

    I am wondering whether 25 hours of police presence will be as effective in preventing drug deals and arson as would spending the same or less money on motion detector lighting, cameras, and silent alarms. Certainly, drug dealers and our local arsonist can figure out when police are not going to be around, and simply adjust their crime schedule accordingly.