by Doug McClure
WOLCOTT – At its regular October 21 meeting, the Wolcott Select Board welcomed back former member Kurt Billings, who served on the board in the aughts. Billings, who will serve through town meeting, helps fill the void left by resigning member Michael Davidson and soon-to-be unavailable Chair Kimberly Gravel.
Billings’ wife expressed concern that her husband’s appointment to the board might introduce stress to the couple’s lives. She said she was “prepared for more lies and crap to happen,” but added, “I actually think you’ve got a really great select board right now.”
Board member Kurt Klein was enthusiastic about Billings.
“The position we’re in right now, we’d love to have you,” Klein said. “There’s a lot going on and a lot is time-sensitive.”
Board member Linda Martin said nobody had been “banging down the door” to apply for the position and agreed Billings brought with him valuable prior experience.
After being sworn in, Billings addressed two problems raised at the meeting. The first was a swing set outside of the depot the insurance company flagged as a safety hazard and wanted removed.
“It’s in pretty bad shape, it just needs to be taken down,” Martin said. “It’s not that they don’t want playground equipment, they just don’t want that playground equipment.”
The insurance company also wanted removal of an overhanging tree branch. Billings told the board he would deal with both issues summarily. Another insurance request involved placement of barriers in front of the town garage but securing grant funding and completing the work would not be possible before the end of 2020.
Earlier this year town residents launched a successful petition asking that residents be allowed to decide on the new junk ordinance instead of the select board authorizing it. The petition forced the suspension of the ordinance and triggered an automatic process whereby residents decide whether or not to keep the ordinance. The voting process this year was complicated due to COVID-19 and restrictions on large gatherings and, as a result, the state extended voting deadlines to the end of 2020. Town Administrator Randall Szott investigated options he received following a consultation with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns (VLCT). He said a floor vote would not be required and the VLCT had several options, including drive-through drop-off balloting. The drive-through option would be less expensive as it would not require the pre-stamped return envelopes necessary for mail in ballots. Klein said some form of Australian ballot would be used and was a “precursor to town meeting” in the time of COVID. Szott is awaiting feedback from the secretary of state.
The board received just one bid for urgent fire station repair work and. at approximately $1,110, it was lower than expected. Clegg said the contractor indicated he was “very concerned” about the condition of the door which he said should be fixed immediately for security reasons. He added he did not believe the time spent on the work would be significant or the work overly complicated. The main time factor would be awaiting the arrival of steel to fix the roof. The board approved the bid and contractor M H & Son Construction of Wolcott.
Szott also addressed preparations for the upcoming budget season. In consultation with Martin, who handled previous run-ups to the budget in her role as town clerk, Szott contacted several organizations that routinely seek appropriations. He said with the exception of the ordinance committee, which zeroed its budget as a result of the junk ordinance suspension, all organizations proposed level-funding with no increases.
“We’re going to have a challenging budget year,” Klein said. He added that if any organizations looking to level-fund were not spending what they were budgeted for, “we should take a look at that.” Martin agreed and added in previous years many organizations had not spent their full allotment. Town Clerk Belinda Clegg said some had not even asked for their funds yet. Chair Gravel said the library had the largest budget and the most significant operating expenses and was also the most impacted by the pandemic.
Also discussed were still vacant positions that need to be filled. Resident Bill Cotten recently resigned from the citizen’s position on the sheriff’s committee and the town is seeking someone to fill that role. The town is also seeking a maintenance worker for the winter. Interested applicants can see the town’s website at wolcottvt.org for details. “The pressure point on this is snow shoveling,” said Klein.
Another open position is town representative to the Lamoille Regional Solid Waste Management District Board. A supervisor received a letter of interest. Philip Wilson is moving to Wolcott from Johnson and has previous board experience, which Klein described as “a great opportunity” for Wolcott. The rest of the board agreed and appointed Wilson.
The board also approved Alcoholics Anonymous’ (AA) ongoing use of town hall for meeting space on Sunday mornings, with the organization to make donations to the town in lieu of paying a fee. An AA representative at the meeting thanked former town clerk Linda Martin and current Town Clerk Belinda Clegg for their assistance.