Weston board agrees to survey to kick off broadband project

Board member Annie Fuji’i says the town can opt out of the broadband project at any time. All photos by Bruce Frauman.

By Bruce Frauman
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

At its Jan. 28 meeting, the Weston Select Board agreed to participate in the Windham Regional Commission broadband project.

Board member Ann Fuji’i said that the town will participate in the survey but can withdraw from further action at any time. The WRC will be surveying landowners in all area towns about their current internet service with the goal of providing every resident with affordable fiber optic service. Board member Jim Linville said the towns will have an option to join a Communication Union District

One downside, according to Board Chair Denis Benson, is that there might be an influx of people from the city attracted by high speed broadband service who would then start looking for other services. Board member Charles Goodwin said second home-owners might be very interested in this project because it could prompt their children and grandchildren to visit more often and even be happier once in Weston.

Thomas Simmons, who works with the Census Bureau to inform the public about the census in Windsor and Windham counties, asked the board for help in “getting a full response” from Weston residents.

Thomas Simmons is looking for support from the Select Board to publicize the census.

The federal Census Bureau take a count of the population every 10 years, in part to allocate funding for 65 federal programs that are population-based. He said residents will only be asked very basic information. He said that the information will not be shared with anyone, including the FBI, ICE, immigration, and local law enforcement.

He said there is a “hole” in this area, with very few people applying for the $20/hour door-to-door census-taking positions. This year, Simmons said, residents will be sent letters asking them to fill out their census information online. If they do not respond, in early April they will be mailed a census form. If they do not return that form, “we send people knocking on doors.” Door-to-door census takers would be working from the end of April to the end of July.

Board member Bruce Downer asked what would happen if residents don’t answer every question. Simmons said that for the online questionnaire, people will be asked to answer every question. But they will be able to leave some blank on the paper form.

Jim Linville suggested to the board that they discuss who would manage the grant application in executive session.

The board continues to wrestle over purchasing a generator to supply electricity to both the Town Annex housing the Little School and the Town Office building during power outages. Board member Jim Linville said he is skeptical that a “big water-cooled unit” being offered the town will ever work. He and Goodwin have yet to hear it operate. And Linville said the price would have to come down significantly

Linville said that while there is no formal agreement with the Little School, if a single generator with two transfer switches is purchased, the town would pay for their half and would consider helping pay a portion of the Little School’s share. He said that Little School Director Cathy Siggins is aware no action may be taken until spring and that, in the interim, the school has been offered a smaller generator.

In other business:

  • The board agreed to the propane fee schedule requested by HB Energy Solutions to provide service for the Little School and the town garage.
  • The board opened and affirmed the accuracy of three U.S. Census Bureau boundary maps of two different scales. Linville laughed when he saw that the “tribal chair” is asked to sign the form, which Benson did.
  • Finally, the board is planning to apply for a $175,000 structures grant from VTrans but has not filed the application yet. Linville, who seemed reluctant to spearhead the process, suggested that the issue be “tabled” to be discussed in a previously scheduled executive session listed as “personnel.” FThis is a violation of the state’s Open Meeting Law because there is no blanket “personnel” exemption to go into executive session. A public body can go into a closed door session to discuss the appointment or employment or evaluation of a public officer or employee or it can exclude the public to discuss disciplinary or dismissal action against a public officer or employee. In this case, according to Fuji’i, the board was talking about the job description for its administrative assistant, which is not covered by any exemption under Vermont’s Open Meeting Law.
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