Some Waitsfield voters want their town to put the breaks on plans for a new town office building, and to instead consider renovating an existing property that is coming on the market. And this isn't the first time the town has been in this position.
Nearly two years ago, voters in Waitsfield approved a bond to build a new town office on a plot of land commonly known as the Farm Stand Lot. The town had been awarded a $750,000 Community Development Disaster Recovery Block Grant and voters approved borrowing $650,000 for the project.
The bond vote passed by a count of 309-209 in July 2013. However, the vote was contentious, as some in town wanted to see the town purchase and renovate a Methodist church that had come on the market only after the town had applied for the block grant for the Farm Stand Lot project. A re-vote was petitioned, but the Farm Stand Lot plan prevailed.
Fast forward to April 2015, and a new petition has been submitted, asking the select board to consider another existing property for its new town offices: the Waitsfield branch of People's United Bank.
The new petition states:
We the undersigned residents of Waitsfield want the Waitsfield Select board to pause all actions toward building a new town hall. The People's United Bank property that is coming on the market would be worth considering. This property could probably save our budget $700,000. This will save our tax payers hundreds of thousands of dollars and help keep our Valley looking and being vibrant. All the needs for the town office are in this building.
Some of the petition backers were at the April 27 select board meeting. They noted the bank building could fulfill all the town's needs, including a vault and centralized location. Meeting minutes state:
Several people were in attendance to present and discuss a petition requesting that the Board take the time to consider the purchase of the People’s United Bank building as a new location for the Town Offices before proceeding with plans for the Farm Stand site. Comments in favor of the Town’s purchase of the building included potential cost savings to tax payers, central location, parking availability, move-in ready, it has a vault, occupancy of what will be a vacant building. There were various viewpoints offered on the potential maintenance costs and infrastructure fees for shopping center improvements. The market price of the building was speculated upon, but is not known.
The minutes show the board raised some concerns, but would like to have a wider discussion on the matter:
Some Board members expressed disappointment that this building was not on the market a year or more ago to be considered in the extensive analysis that was done to determine the best solution for new Town Offices and the subsequent votes held. It was pointed out that the only spending authorized by the voters is for the Farm Stand site. The grant monies that have been allocated are specific to those current plans, and it is likely that any change in direction will require the grant be forfeited. Additional concerns were the loss of the tax base associated with the property as well as it being a viable location for new business.
The Board explained that the petition had just been received and there had not yet been an opportunity for a Board discussion of the contents. Board members felt that there were many factors to be studied related to the viability of the building as office space, renovations that would be required, maintenance costs, and other financial considerations. The need to hear from a larger portion of tax payers was also expressed as important to the Board.
The People's United branch office is located in the Mad River Green shopping center. The space is owned by the bank and there are fees collected by Crosspoint Associates for maintenance, taxes and insurance totaling approximately $1,430 per month. However, at least the tax potion of that amount would likely go down under town ownership.
On Monday, May 4 town and project officials visited the bank property and architect William Gallup complied a list of building characteristics, needs and items to be considered.