Weston board discusses future of fiber optic, cannabis marketplace

By Bruce Frauman
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The Weston Select Board, minus the absent Ann Fuji’i, on Tuesday, Jan. 14 engaged in extended discussions regarding financial issues over legislation in Montpelier, the fire department and a generator to serve both the Town Office and the Little School building next door.

Board chair Denis Benson speaks by phone with state Rep. Kelly Pajala. All photos by Bruce Frauman.

State Rep. Kelly Pajala called in from Montpelier to tell the board that some towns have voted to join a Communications Union District that would provide fiber optic cable through a private company but would not use taxes to pay for it. Select boards can vote to be a part of the CUDs.

Pajala said the Windham Regional Commission is using state money to conduct a feasibility study as well as hire a company to provide technical assistance. She said some communities want to provide a specialized solution locally, but economies of scale might make larger districts more viable, including the possibility of a southern Vermont district that would include both Windham and Bennington counties.

Board member Jim Linville speculated that in the future, costs for paving, infrastructure, bridges and culverts are less and less likely to be reimbursed by the state, especially since the population is declining. Pajala said the state is “well aware of the demographic challenges, which is the biggest thing that everyone is trying to do across the board.” She is not aware of any new unfunded road mandates.

Board member Charles Goodwin asks about revenue possible from a cannabis marketplace.

Asked by board member Charles Goodwin about towns looking for significant revenue from a possible cannabis market, Pajala said there could be income as well as significant costs. She said she believes that current proposed legislation includes 6 percent of a 16 percent sales tax that would go to substance abuse programs. A local options tax of up to 2 percent could be added. Pajala also said there are no taxes, but there are licensing fees for growers. She also stressed that it is early in the legislative session, and a lot can change before any bills become laws.

Pajala added that a business can only apply for one of six categories of licenses, so the opportunity for profit will be spread around. Board chair Denis Benson asked if law enforcement will be an increased burden on towns.  “My gosh, I hope not,” Pajala said, adding that people are driving around impaired, so it is a problem, and that it is legal to own and smoke cannabis.

When Benson asked about education taxes, Pajala said the formula to determine equalized student numbers is “way out of whack,” specially for disadvantaged rural communities. She said the stage is set for this to be updated.

Fire equipment, first responder wellness

Ryan Hart, who is the new chief of the Weston Volunteer Fire Department, said the department has received the revised bill for air packs and has asked the town to pay the $43,000 balance. The department, he said, had already paid $25,000. Benson said the money was already in the vendor pay order.

Roads Foreman Almon Crandall updates the board.

Hart also said the fire department will be applying for a grant from the Vermont League of Cities and Towns PACIF insurance program to pay for cones and other traffic safety equipment. He said the fire department will pay half of the $5,000 cost and PACIF will pay for the other $2,500. Hart said the grant application is due by the end of February and requires select board approval. He also said Road Foreman Almon Crandall may add some items to the grant request, which can be up to $10,000.

Hart also said he plans to work with the VLCT on first responder wellness and has challenged all the chiefs of the tri-mountain towns to come up with a program to deal with stress among their ranks.

Resident Donald Hart asked the fire chief  if the department was getting its money’s worth with the Southwest New Hampshire Dispatch, also referred to as Keene.  Ryan Hart said that while Keene is “an expensive dispatch call center … they are fantastic.”

Donald Hart said that Londonderry had complained about quality of service. But one attendee said Londonderry had an issue with the radio communication off of Magic Mountain, but not the service itself. Ryan Hart added that the relay system on Magic Mountain was designed to communicate with mobile radios in buildings with more power, and not with 5-watt hand-held radios. He said Keene has improved the system in the past year and were checking the system in Weston a couple of months ago.

The board voted to authorize Zoning Administrator Will Goodwin to contact Beck Engineering to add a conveyance zone to the back of the Little School on a map to allow a generator to be placed there.

Asked about pricing for a generator, Goodwin said the electrician had expressed concern about the “exorbitant cost” of running an underground electrical cable from the Town Annex, which is rented by the Little School, to the town office building. Goodwin said he and the contractor agreed that unless something “really big” comes up, it is still less expensive than purchasing and maintaining two generators.

Linville reluctantly then moved to accept a $4,500 annual contract, billed quarterly, from Stantec for water testing for PFOAs and other chemicals for the Annex.

In other business:
Road Foreman Almon Crandall said the roads are being maintained and he is keeping the salt shed full. Then, after Crandall left the meeting, resident Ron Prouty said an  “ancient” maple in his yard that might be in the town right of way and needs to be taken down. Benson said the board will ask Crandall if his crew should and can remove the tree, but offered no guarantees.

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