Hardwick, News

Select Board Reviews Draft of Next Year’s Budget

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by Gazette Staff

HARDWICK – At its November 16 regular meeting, the Hardwick Select Board heard a resident’s concerns about a replacement bridge, received a report on the challenges faced by the electric department, and discussed a partial draft of the FY25 budget.

Resident Helm Nottermann was present to talk about the Hardwick Farms Road bridge after the flood. He had concerns about the temporary bridge being too narrow for farm equipment to pass through. He wanted to know the schedule for fixing this and emphasized how important this is. Town Manager David Upson explained that the bridge was put in to ensure that the road could be plowed in the winter, and that the town is aware that the bridge is essential for the farmers. He added that the town had to have a hydrologic study done after the flood to move forward with a replacement bridge. The new bridge needs to be engineered; the City of Burlington has offered municipal assistance on this. Once the design is complete, the work can go out to bid, hopefully first thing in the spring. The schedule will be contingent on finding a contractor who can do the work.

Helm expressed disappointment with the town’s handling of the bridge and felt that they did not take farmers’ needs into consideration. Upson reiterated that he was very much aware of how the bridge affected farmers, but the town had to take into consideration all residents who may also use that road.

The plan is to straighten the approach and then re-install a bridge that can accommodate agricultural equipment until a permanent replacement can be built.

Next, Upson noted that the Clean Water State Revolving Loan Fund is offering forgivable loans ranging from $150,000 to $325,000 for redesign of wastewater plants affected by the flood. He also shared that there is a wastewater plant task force that has been formed, including the towns of Johnson and Ludlow, which also had their plants damaged. A “substantial damage” inspection of the Hardwick plant will be performed to assist with preparing for the redesign and/or relocation of the plant.

Upson also shared that a Northeast Kingdom Human Services mental health support person is located on the third floor at Hardwick Inn to provide support for flood recovery concerns, health, and well-being.

Upson then mentioned that the Hardwick Neighbor-to-Neighbor group is working on the town’s Local Emergency Management Plan (LEMP) after the flood event. The plan is to update the LEMP to fill in any gaps, so the town will be better prepared for any future disasters. He also reported that he attended a Pedestrian Bridge meeting. The focus now is getting the design to bridge manufacturing companies for proposals on the actual bridge.

There was no road foreman report. However, Upson shared that the road crew has been working on truck maintenance, grading, putting up banners, and some minor water/sewer fixes.

Upson also gave a brief Hardwick Police Department (HPD) report, noting that there had been an early morning drug raid on the corner of Elm and Spring St. It was a multi-agency effort led by Federal agents.

The Hardwick Electric Department (HED) report was given by HED commissioner Roger Prevot, who said that the Wolcott Hydro dam was “wiped out by the flood.” HED is in the process of tearing down, cleaning up and evaluating what will be needed to repair it. HED does not know when the dam will be up and running again. Some equipment may be rebuilt, while some may not be salvageable. HED hopes to pin down the schedule and costs in the coming months.

Prevot mentioned that HED is working closely with the Yellow Barn project as they have specific needs, which will require upgrades.

Prevot also reported on a shortage of transformers, resulting in long lead times for new orders. It can currently take 26-28 weeks to get delivery. HED has been ordering small batches of transformers to try to keep a small supply on hand, some for specific projects and a couple of extras. He said that he does not see the supply constraints ending soon.

He also reported that purchased power was very expensive earlier this year, causing HED to draw down its cash reserves. Some capital projects had to be put on hold temporarily and HED considering using a line of credit for cash flow needs. The department has another rate increase request in the works for next year.

Select Board Chair Eric Remick mentioned that the agendas and minutes for the HED commissioner meetings are not always current on HED’s website. They are supposed to have minutes posted within five calendar days. Prevot said he would bring that comment back to the commissioners.

The board then reviewed a draft of the FY25 town budget. Topics of discussion included:

– The need to set aside a lot more funds in the equipment fund to keep the replacement schedule on track because prices have increased drastically

– Consider setting aside some funds for future grant matches

– Consider setting aside funds for the trailheads (in the capital budget)

– Consider increasing the budget line for gravel so the town can crush its own material in the newly-acquired Davis gravel pit

– The need to offer competitive wages to hire and retain qualified police officers

– Increase the number of police officers

– Decrease the budget for fuel as prices have stabilized

– The library bond is on a 20-year amortization instead of 30-year, making the payment higher than expected by roughly $14,000 to $16,000 per year. The intention for the bond was to have the gravel pit for a 20-year and the library to have a 30-year, but there was miscommunication, and both ended up as 20-year bonds.

–Other departments such as the library, trails, recreation, and Hardwick Rescue are just estimates for now.

The select board then voted to authorize the town manager to sign an agreement with NEKDC relating to disposal of contaminated soil at the Yellow Barn site, voted to sign an employment contract with the town manager, approved the provision of a letter of support for a Transportation Alternatives Program Grant, and authorized the town manager to accept the project grant funds for a $1.2 million brownfields grant for Yellow Barn soil remediation.

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