This article first appeared in the February 16th, 2012 edition of the Vermont Standard.
By Kate Stillson
Special To The Standard
WEST WINDSOR — West Windsor voters will take on some weighty issues at this year’s Town Meeting. With Mt. Ascutney Ski Resort still closed, real estate prices continuing to drop, total repair costs following Tropical Storm Irene possibly reaching a million dollars, and longtime constable Ralph Johnson retiring in June after over 44 years on the job, the responsibility will rest squarely on taxpayer shoulders as important decisions will be made concerning the town’s future.
“West Windsor is at a crossroads,” wrote Glenn Seward, Selectboard Chair, in a letter to voters. “We must consider innovative measures to ensure a reasonable path forward given the magnitude of our situation.”
On August 28, 2011, Tropical Storm Irene dropped nearly twelve inches of rain on West Windsor in one day. The town needed to spend approximately $600,000 of unbudgeted funds rebuilding roads and bridges and repairing flooded buildings. This year the town is requesting additional funds to reconstruct the intersection of Hartland/Brownsville Road and Coon Club, to replace the culvert on Dugdale Road and to reconstruct the Bowers Covered Bridge on Bible Hill. In total, repair costs due to Tropical Storm Irene may amount to a million dollars.
“The town has been promised state and federal funds to cover a lot of these costs,” said Selectman Tom Kenyon, referring to the $644,000 revenue line item attributed to the 2011 budget. “This revenue is not a definite and we might need to add another penny or two to the tax rate (approximately thirty to seventy thousand dollars) to cover indebtedness. We won’t know until June.”
According to Seward, all indications are that there is state and federal relief to cover approximately 90 percent of the total repair costs, leaving West Windsor responsible for the remaining 10 percent.
“Through prudent financial management and planning by the Town Treasurer and past and present Selectboards, we anticipate a minimal effect to the Town tax rate,” wrote Seward.
One suggestion the Selectboard has put forward ensured to have an effect on the tax rate is the proposal that West Windsor purchase the 4.3 mile long sewer line east of Brownsville General store, currently supplying waste water management to 270 West Windsor residents and a handful of Windsor users along Route 44. Residents are being asked on March 6 to vote by Australian Ballot whether to acquire the sewer line for an amount not to exceed $500,000 and to be financed over a 25-year period.
“The cost to the users of that system have risen from $400 to $700 to $1100 in the last couple of years. If we were to purchase the line, property owners would be assured that there isn’t a septic problem in the future,” said Selectboard member Tom Kenyon. According to Snowdance, the company that took over Ascutney Mountain Resort after a 2010 foreclosure, the higher rates are due to Irene damage, unpaid bills to CVPS and the town of Windsor for treatment and other capital improvement spending.
If voters approve the half a million-dollar expenditure, and if Snowdance does sell the line, future improvements would most likely include connecting the Resort and Village lines. “The State has expanded the protection zone around wells. Basically the new map covers the entire downtown,” said Kenyon, stating that new construction or change of use is prohibited in the Village unless there is compliance with these State regulations. According to a study prepared by Aldrich & Elliot, an engineering firm out of Essex Junction retained last year to conduct a State-funded water/wastewater assessment, West Windsor Village has two options: build a mound drainage system to serve only existing users or connect the two lines.
Purchasing the sewer line may also sweeten the pot for potential buyers.
“A number of interested parties have looked into buying the Resort,” said Kenyon, stating that a major reason for hesitation has been the buyers’ reluctance to take on the task of maintaining water and wastewater lines that are currently in disrepair. “The mountain being closed has affected everyone, from local electricians, to shop owners to property owners. It just spreads.”
Two special meetings have been warned to discuss and ultimately vote on whether the town should proceed with acquisition talks. The first will be Wednesday, February 22 at 7pm in the West Windsor Town Hall and the other at 10am on Saturday, March 3.
Voters will likely spend many hours on Town Meeting Day discussing these issues and more. “With a village center lacking in development potential, a shuttered ski area, struggling local businesses and falling real estate values, the decision we make in the very near term might very well define West Windsor’s future,” wrote Seward. “Although we would strive to keep rates as low as possible, a certain amount of investment needs to be made to ensure the community’s future.” The meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 6 at 9 am.