by Doug McClure
HARDWICK – At its first meeting of 2021, the Hardwick Select Board discussed the Northern Borders Regional Commission (NBRC) announcement earlier that day of a $1 million grant awarded to the Yellow Barn project.
“It’s really significant for this project because, while there are some other details to be ironed out in terms of borrowing, this was the last major piece of the funding puzzle that was unknown,” select board chair Eric Remick said.
Board member Lucian Avery said he recalled in previous meetings that the estimated overrun was described as closer to $2 million and asked where the additional funding would come from. Remick said the balance of funding would be covered through loans, and some of the original estimated grant-based offsets were derived from percentages that would proportionately increase with the increased project costs.
Lease partners also said they were amenable to adjustments in their agreements to help offset the additional expenses, Remick said. With new funding from the NBRC, loan applications had solid footing to proceed. He added that the new clarity in funding put the project on track to reach the construction phase as soon as the fall of 2021.
The board also heard from Hardwick Police Department (HPD) Chief Aaron Cochran about an unplanned reduction in the department’s staffing. It is hard for HPD to compete with better-funded law enforcement agencies that offer bonuses, he said. In the case of HPD’s Corporal Steven Mitchell, Lamoille County Sheriff’s Department made an offer Mitchell accepted.
Chief Cochran said Mitchell had been with HPD for nearly 10 years and his departure was a significant loss. Interviewing was underway to fill the position, he said. He added one applicant had withdrawn their application after receiving a better offer from another agency. A second officer is leaving HPD for deployment, Chief Cochran said.
The department received news that first-round COVID vaccinations were extended to police and fire, Chief Cochran said. A COVID outbreak at the end of 2020 sidelined half of the department for several weeks.
Town Manager Shaun Fielder said the recreation committee’s Susanne Gann was stepping down, and a second member of the committee was also leaving. Both positions have been advertised. Reversing a previous decision, the committee opened the ice rink at Atkins Field. Fielder asked skaters to be “real delicate about following social distancing practices.”
The ownership of River Street/Mill Street in East Hardwick is yet to be resolved. The town received an estimate of $750 from a surveyor to help determine whether the road is a town road. Fielder described the step as “information discovery” and said “we’ve got a whole community of people upset about it; it seems like a good thing to do.” The board agreed.
The board discussed responding to a petition from residents regarding the safety of the Glenside and Mill Street intersection. Fielder said Doug Morton of the Northeast Vermont Development Association assessed the signage and travel corridor markings to confirm they met state requirements. A suggestion was made to trim back some of the foliage at the intersection in the town right-of-way to improve sightlines.
The board heard that vice chair Elizabeth Dow has decided she does not want to run again. “I’m reporting that I’m not going to run, I don’t have the energy for this, I’ve got other things to do, and I don’t think I’m very good at this,” Dow said. The board objected to the latter characterization, noting that among other contributions, Dow often asked pointed questions that helped the process. Dow said she felt others should apply. “I have learned an enormous amount. This has been a very gratifying experience,” she said. “Everybody should get involved in town government in some form just so you have an understanding of what goes into it, of how things work.” Dow said she was “deeply impressed” by the hard work and commitment of town employees, volunteers and committees. “I’ve never had any sense whatsoever of any sort of self-serving [behavior] or corruption,” Dow said. “It is a really clean, honest town government and I’m glad I did this.”
Board member Shari Cornish previously said she would not run again, and clarified the decision was due to a shift in focus. She said, “my hope is I’m going to revive the downtown commission.” Her decision in part came from recognizing the perennial topic of Hardwick seeking a Downtown Designation now had a strong case with the swinging bridge project. A large prospective grant for that project would be strongly assisted by the designation.
Board member Lucian Avery said he had not yet decided whether he planned to run again. Town Clerk Alberta Miller said as of this meeting no one had applied for any of the positions, but applicants have until January 25 to do so.