Derry Board still mulls details of Town Meeting; opts for caretaker service, nixing full-time hire

By Cherise Madigan
©2021 Telegraph Publishing LLC

A new Highway and Buildings maintenance position mulled by the Londonderry Select Board earlier this month will not come to fruition following criticism of the expenditure from some residents and board members.

The proposed position, which would have totaled nearly $80,000 per year with benefits, will now be replaced by contracted caretaking services. That expenditure will likely be voted on within the budget at Town Meeting — which board members expect to postpone at a special meeting later this month.

Though some board members had suggested revisiting the issue as an article in Londonderry’s Town Meeting warning, chair George Mora on Monday instead suggested that the town seek caretaking services for buildings including the Town Office. Additional help for the road crew appears less necessary now that it has been restored to a three-man crew, she said, and board member Taylor Prouty added that Hunter Excavating has expressed willingness to provide contracted assistance when necessary.

Mora requested that Town Administrator Shane O’Keefe document what services would be needed then solicit estimates from local caretakers. The cost of such services would be considered general maintenance, said Town Treasurer Tina Labeau, and will likely be included in the town’s budget rather than being voted on as a separate article.

Town Clerk Kelly Pajala, in her role as chair of the Parks Board, requested that a separate expenditure for parks maintenance remain in the budget if the Highway and Buildings position is not created.

Turning to the budget, Labeau said that all organizations whose FY2022 appropriations were reduced or “paused” in light of the pandemic’s economic impacts have been notified. Following a discussion with members of the South Londonderry Free Library, she said, its  $10,000 appropriation request will not be reduced. And the Phoenix Fire Company #6 recently requested $20,000, bringing the total appropriations request to “a little over $100,000.”

A $2,500 appropriation requested by the My Community Nurse Project at the board’s last meeting will likely be voted on separately as a warned item, which is typical for organizations that have not received town funds in the past.

Discussion of Londonderry’s Town Meeting warning also continued on Monday, this time with an emphasis on policing services, cannabis sales and a study of the Williams Dam.

Currently, Article 11 of the warning asks voters whether the town should dedicate $5,000 to policing services — the same amount budgeted for Vermont State Police services in fiscal 2021. Board members agreed to solicit estimates from other law enforcement agencies, specifically the Windham County Sheriff’s Office, and discussed increasing the budget to $10,000.

Town Meeting moderator Doug Friant reminded the board that the services had initially been contracted in response to suspected illegal drug sales and related issues, at a cost of about $80,000 per year. Board member Taylor Prouty added that the community conversation has begun to shift to traffic speeds and road safety, changing the need for policing services. Board members will continue to work on the article.

Regarding the logistics of Town Meeting, Pajala said that Gov. Scott was expected to sign H.48, a bill allowing towns to delay town meetings because of the pandemic, and the board agreed to hold a special meeting to vote on postponing if so. Because of deadlines for the town meeting warning, that meeting will need to be held prior to Jan. 25. On Tuesday morning, Scott announced that he had signed the bill.

Previously, the board’s discussions have favored postponing until late spring in hopes that an in-person meeting could be held outdoors, probably at Pingree Park. On Monday, Pajala suggested May 1 for the meeting date. It would allow time to have all voting concluded and a budget approved by June 30, the end of the fiscal year. A meeting held later could hold up the budget process because voters have 30 days after Town Meeting to petition for a vote to be reconsidered.

Londonderry’s polls will still be open on Tuesday, March 2, Pajala said, because the Taconic & Green Regional School District has opted to conduct its voting by Australian Ballot on the usual Town Meeting date.

Article on cannabis sales awaits further Montpelier action

On the advice of Pajala, this time in her role as state representative, the board agreed to hold off on including an article about retail cannabis sales as well as the 1 percent option tax that would allow the town to receive revenue from such sales.

The state rules surrounding cannabis sales will probably not be finalized by Town Meeting, Pajala said, and both measures — whether to allow retail cannabis sales in Londonderry and whether to enact the 1 percent option tax — could be voted on in a special meeting once such rules are established.

“The vote taken for retail cannabis would be a binding vote to allow the retail sales of recreational cannabis in Londonderry, so this is bigger than a non-binding straw poll,” she said. “It would be opening up a big issue to the town.”

While Londonderry voters signaled their openness to retail cannabis at the 2020 Town Meeting, sales had not yet been legalized at the state level. That happened this fall when Gov. Phil Scott let Act 164 pass into law unsigned, but the act only facilitates municipal revenue through a 1 percent option tax. Last year, Londonderry residents struck down the tax 77 to 44.

“It’s a big enough and complicated enough issue for a special meeting,” Mora said “There’s going to need to be a lot of energy focused on getting people to understand that the 1 percent local option tax is critical in taking advantage of the tax revenue from retail cannabis sales.”

Additionally, O’Keefe acknowledged that an article asking whether to fund an engineering study of the Williams Dam (Article 13) had been added to the warning in response to the town’s discussion about the problematic structure this fall.

Commission clarifies Project Londonderry configuration

Londonderry Planning Commission members attended Monday’s meeting to clarify misunderstandings surrounding the commission’s Project Londonderry initiative. At the Select Board’s Dec. 21 meeting, Planning Commission Chair Sharon Crossman said that Project Lodonderry working groups were “on the verge of establishing a 501(c)(3).”

“We’ve known for a while that we needed to split it off from the Planning Commission and work together still, but with clearer lines,” Crossman said at the time.

In a resulting interview and article with The Telegraph, Planning Commission organizers articulated the relationship between Project Londonderry and town government in a similar way: that the initiative was distancing itself from the town government to have more freedom organizationally and in terms of fundraising. The Telegraph has since cleared up the confusion and corrected its original article.

In reality, a third organization known as the Community Fund for Londonderry (a name not mentioned to The Telegraph prior to publication) has been established by volunteers involved with Project Londonderry, which will remain an initiative of the Planning Commission.

While the Community Fund for Londonderry will be active in helping to solicit community feedback for an upcoming Master Plan, Crossman clarified at Monday’s Select Board meeting that such a project will still be led by the town Planning Commission with oversight from the board. Going forward, Mora requested that Crossman update the board on the Planning Commission and Project Londonderry at the second Select Board meeting of each month.

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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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