Pandemic casts shadow on Derry board decisions Town Meeting plans discussed; board cautious on spending

The Londonderry Select Board meets on Monday, Dec. 7.

By Cherise Forbes
©2020 Telegraph Publishing LLC

At the Dec. 7 meeting of the Londonderry Select Board, Kelly Pajala, who is Town Clerk and a state representative for Windham-Bennington-Windsor, told the board that legislators are working to get a bill to Gov. Phil Scott by mid-January to expand options for how and when towns may conduct their annual meetings amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

Town Clerk and state Rep. Kelly Pajala tells the board that the legislature is working to give boards leeway over Town Meeting.

Prior to adjourning this past fall, Pajala said, the legislature granted local select boards the option to use Australian ballots — which could be mailed to voters, as they were in the general election this November — for the election of officers and voting on public questions. Still, she said, the measure will not solve all issues surrounding conducting Town Meeting in 2021.

Legislators with the help of stakeholders like the Vermont League of Cities and Towns are working to draft a bill “as soon as possible” that would allow towns to start planning for Town Meeting with one-time measures like mail-in ballots and delayed meeting dates, Pajala said.

Such exceptions would allow for a physically distanced vote in March, a potentially outdoors meeting in May or other configurations at each select board’s discretion. Tax deadlines would still need to be considered, she added, and elected officials would need to extend their terms if the meeting were to be rescheduled.

“We’re a floor vote town and it means an awful lot to people to conduct the meeting and vote in person,” Pajala said. “If not for this pandemic, I would argue all day long that you should not give that up.”

No further discussion or action was pursued on the matter at Monday’s meeting, though it is one that will likely be revisited in coming weeks.

Cautious budgeting in light of Covid economic impacts

Covid-19 cases are rising around the country and in the region, said Londonderry Emergency Management Director Kevin Beattie, with hospital capacity being surpassed in many places. Local hospitals are keeping up, but that could change if cases continue to rise in Vermont, he said, noting that he will be deferring to state directives and reports until there is a greater need for Emergency Management in Londonderry.

Emergency Management Director Kevin Beattie addresses funding for emerald ash borer work in light of the pandemic.

The pandemic will impact the size of the town’s yearly contribution to its emerald ash borer fund, Beattie said, recommending that a $3,000 appropriation be placed in the Town Meeting warning, which he said will need to be larger in coming years.

Additionally, Beattie said that Green Mountain Power has begun the “multi-year” effort of marking ash trees near phone lines that will need to be cut down, and will be contacting impacted landowners for permission.

The board agreed to delay a bond vote to fund planned renovations to the Londonderry Town Office, a project that would cost close to $950,000, said Town Administrator Shane O’Keefe. While the board discussed adding the bond vote to the 2021 Town Meeting agenda over the summer, the timing “just isn’t right,” O’Keefe said.

“Every year that you wait [the cost] is going to get more expensive,” he said, “but if you’re bonding for 20 or 30 years the difference shouldn’t be significant.”

Board Chair George Mora and Planning Commission Chair Sharon Crossman advocated for smaller, stand-alone projects that would maintain the project’s momentum, including repairs to the Town Office roof, cleaning up its basement and possibly installing an elevator. Those projects could be funded by the Town Building Reserve Fund as well as state and federal grants, Mora said.

“There’s still a lot we can do without going all-in this year,” Mora said, agreeing that delaying the bond vote was prudent. “Those projects would keep up momentum without saddling the town with such a big expense.”

The board voted unanimously to reschedule the bond vote and agreed to continue discussing smaller projects. The board also entered into a preventative maintenance agreement for the Town Office generator with Brook Field Service, agreed to contract a new phone system through VOXO, and awarded a contract for replacing the Town Office heating system to Carroll Mechanical for up to $7,300.

A project to raise the former Post Office on Route 11 & 30 above the base flood elevation is also being delayed due to Covid-related staffing issues faced by the project’s primary subcontractor, O’Keefe said. Work will likely resume in the spring, at which time the town will need to look into hiring an engineer.

Derry eyes new welcome signs

Londonderry’s Planning Commission and Beautification Committee will pursue the design of  —  and fundraising for — four new “Welcome to Londonderry” signs. Four potential sign-makers were consulted and compared with the Londonderry business Typestries, owned by resident Rick McDonough, rising to the top. Locally, Typestries has made signs for Flood Brook School and Magic Mountain.  The committee also will request a draft design from McDonough and continue to consider possible funding options for the signs, which are estimated to cost $7,960.

Londonderry is planning on new welcome signs designed by a local company.

A legal trail at the end of Under the Mountain Road has been re-named to Shatterack Mountain Road per a request by the Town of Jamaica and nearby property owners. The new name will decrease confusion, since its Londonderry and Jamaica sections will now have the same name, and make it easier for emergency services to locate homeowners living there,  according to Pajala.

While signage will be erected to denote the new name, Shatterack Mountain Road will continue to be designated as a trail.

Later, the board discussed a request from Conservation Commission Chair Irwin Kuperberg for input on whether to begin thanking guest speakers by making a donation to the organization of their choice. Since the start of the pandemic, Kuperberg wrote, the commission has been expanding its remote educational programming.

Following some debate, the board agreed to recommend that the commission reserve its funds for direct conservation work in Londonderry and write a thank you letter instead. In the Select Board’s discussion of the request, Pajala noted that the gesture could appear to sidestep the town appropriations process.

Throughout the three-plus hour meeting, a number of additional announcements were also discussed:

  • Two radar speed signs have been requested from the Windham County Sheriff’s Office through a related federal grant program and may be available by the spring, according to O’Keefe. A mobile speed cart from the Windham Sheriff’s Office will likely be placed on Route 100 this week.
  • The Select Board also agreed that Tina Labeau, Delinquent Tax Collector and Town Treasurer, and the town will split the delinquent tax penalty collected on any property.  The penalty amounts to 8 percent of the delinquent tax. And Labeau will take three-eighths of the penalty while the town will take the remainder.
  • An engineering study for the Williams Dam is estimated to cost $50,000, O’Keefe said. The question of whether to repair or remove the dam will likely appear as an article at Londonderry’s 2021 Town Meeting.
  • William Goodwin, the town’s new Zoning and Floodplain administrator, will begin work this week and, following an executive session at the end of the meeting, the board moved to amend O’Keefe’s contract to re-assign the Zoning and Floodplain duties and adjust the town’s contribution to his retirement to 10 percent. The staffing change — which allowed the town to hire Goodwin in lieu of a new assistant to the Town Administrator — was discussed at the Board’s Nov. 17 meeting.
  • An internet booster for public use, located at the Town Office, has been installed by the Windham Regional Commission.
  • The town garage generator connection project should wrap up next week, despite some manufacturing delays caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • The Select Board also will look into a new town website in 2021 and will seek out contractors who have worked on other town government websites.
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About the Author: Journalist and photographer Cherise Madigan specializes in writing about outdoor recreation, the environment and travel. She has roots in Manchester and a history of reporting throughout Southern Vermont. Madigan is a graduate of Nazareth College of Rochester, earning her degree in Political Science summa cum laude in 2015.

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