While citizens and town officials noted and discussed a multitude of concerns during Waterford’s select board meeting on Oct. 11, the threat of the COVID-19 virus and its increased caseload in the Northeast Kingdom ran throughout.
At the start of the meeting, which saw around 35 attendees, Select Board Member Bill Piper spoke up.
“This room is pretty crowded and we don’t have any air circulation in here at all,” he said. “I don’t normally wear a mask, but I would encourage people; if you have them, I really think you should put masks on. I am concerned about this.”
“I don’t think this would be recommended by the Vermont Department of Health, sitting this close together in an enclosed room like this,” Piper added. “I am just suggesting, masks might be a good idea.”
Select Board Member Warner Hodgdon promptly got up and grabbed his own mask from outside.
Citizens Committee To Develop Recommendations For COVID Funding
Further along in the meeting, Board Chair Fred Saar announced that the town of Waterford had received their grant allocations from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Fund.
Waterford resident Roberta Gillott agreed earlier this year to organize and chair a citizen’s committee to review and develop suggestions for potential uses of the funds.
On Monday evening, Gillott told Saar that the committee was planning for an initial public meeting on Thursday, Oct. 14, but was waiting to hear back from the firehouse about the use of their space. Gillott added that Waterford State Rep. Marcia Martel and resident Heather Gonyaw would serve as vice-chairs of the committee.
After some discussion on how far in advance the meeting would need to be warned, Saar said he would post the agenda on the town website.
While the agenda posted on the select board’s website indicates a Thursday evening meeting as of press time, Gillott told the Caledonian-Record on Tuesday that the committee had decided to postpone the public meeting to a future date — to be announced — in order to be better organized. An organizational meeting will be held via Zoom instead.
Gillott explained at the select board meeting that the committee would host a public meeting to gather suggestions, as well as hold other informal informational and suggestion-gathering events during the transfer station’s open hours.
According to Martel, the town has $372,461.85 (distributed over two years) with which to work.
Piper, also a member of the NEK Community Broadband Communications Union District, mentioned that some towns are having difficulty finding an acceptable use for the funds due to not having a sewer or water system. However, Piper noted, broadband is an acceptable use and the CUD will be working to deploy broadband service in Waterford next year; thus, the committee should consider applying the money to their projects.
“I’m sure we’ll figure out how to spend the money,” replied Gillott. “There’s a lot to discuss: broadband is one very easy thing that’s listed, and Fred [Saar] has sent me a lot of information about things. That’s definitely on the table but, simultaneously, the Vermont League of Cities and Towns and Chad Whitehead [St. Johnsbury’s Town Manager] recommend that you don’t spend it on broadband, so there’s a lot of opinions.”
Potential For Funds To Be Used For Library And Town Office Ventilation
Later in the meeting, Saar explained to those in attendance that Kandis Barrett, director of the Davies Memorial Library (where the select board meetings are held and in whose basement the town offices reside), has requested air conditioning for the library’s space.
“I’ve checked Lowe’s: they’re $515 each and the annual operating cost is $114,” said Saar. “It would take two of the units to cool the air in here.”
Piper and Gillott both spoke up.
“This is perfectly legitimate for the ARPA money,” Gillott explained. “It would be smarter to make a circulation system through the building so that it’s safer for meeting downstairs as well, rather than just a couple of window units.”
“Going full circle back to the beginning of this meeting, when I suggested we wear masks … we have no air handling in here,” Piper said. “Two AC units aren’t going to resolve this issue. […] This is one of those ARPA things that’s sort of a no-brainer.”
Saar gave the conversation a thumbs up.
“You guys did a great job getting that where it needed to be,” he said.
Winter Select Board Meeting Plans
Near the end of the meeting, Saar announced that Hodgdon would be out of town during their planned Nov. 8 meeting and that Piper would be only available by phone or Zoom as he will be making his annual winter trip out to Montana for a number of months.
“We’ll be gone for four months,” Piper explained. “We leave every year; we have grandchildren out West. […] For Zoom meetings that works fine, but for in-person meetings …”
Piper explained that prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, select board meetings were not so well attended and thus were held in a much smaller room located downstairs, where his attendance via speakerphone worked well.
“When I got on the board, this is one of the things we talked about … that we were going to be gone in the winter, and whether it’s best for the town to have a selectman be gone for three or four months a year,” Piper said. “That’s something we’re going to have to deal with down the road. But for now, for the November meeting, I can make a telephone meeting or a Zoom one, but not in person.”
Saar suggested to Gillott that another ARPA funding use could be the acquisition of equipment that would allow hybrid (in-person and virtual) participation in public meetings, adding that some residents have expressed concern regarding meeting access with regards to the ongoing pandemic. Resident Clement Gray noted what is true for a number of those in town: “we don’t have computers and we don’t have internet.”
After indicating that the November select board meeting would be hybrid with the help of another town resident, Mike Barrett, Saar moved to adjourn the meeting.
This is the second of three articles detailing the events of the Waterford select board meeting held on Oct. 11. 2021.