A 'health issue'? Newfane mulls office repairs

Thursday February 28, 2013

NEWFANE -- There are long-standing problems at Newfane's deteriorating town office.

And some argue that it's time to allocate a significant amount of cash to address those issues, which include water and mold in the basement of the Route 30 structure.

At Tuesday's Town Meeting, advocates for office renovations say they will try to amend the capital budget to include up to $100,000 for the project.

"The building is deteriorating. It's not good to let it deteriorate," Selectboard member Priscilla Cotton said. "Attention must be paid to it."

Selectboard members last year had proposed making a sizable investment in the town office as part of what was termed the Lynch Bridge "alternate" project.

The idea was to not rebuild Lynch Bridge, which had been washed away during Tropical Storm Irene in 2011, and to instead spend related Federal Emergency Management Agency money on various town improvements.

At a special meeting in November, however, voters nixed an associated property purchase. And the Selectboard subsequently decided to rebuild Lynch Bridge.

So there is no "alternate" cash available, and there is just $25,000 allocated for the town office in the fiscal 2014 capital fund.

But a contractor's analysis performed last year estimated repair costs at nearly $175,000. In addition to eradicating moisture and mold in a crawl space beneath the building -- which the report called "a truly grim place to work" for a construction crew -- the analysis called for replacement of the office's windows and heating/ventilation system among other work.

Some believe Newfane's actual, reasonable office-project expenditure in fiscal 2014 should fall somewhere between the town's budget and the contractor's estimate.

"The $25,000 isn't going to be sufficient to cover those repairs," resident Gunther Garbe said. "So we're thinking of an amendment to increase it to $100,000."

Garbe, a former Newfane Planning Commission member who frequently attends Selectboard meetings, said he will introduce that amendment at Town Meeting on Tuesday.

He acknowledges that a tax hike would be necessary to support increased office expenditures. But he argues that those expenditures are necessary.

"It's a health issue," Garbe said. "If you have a mold problem, it has to be addressed."

Cotton, whose Selectboard term is expiring after Town Meeting, said she will back Garbe's amendment. She also volunteered to serve on an office-renovation committee to help guide that process if the expenditure is approved.

"I want to keep it moving forward," Cotton said. "We'll put a committee together. We would report to the Selectboard."

Selectboard Chairman Jon Mack said he understands the need for office upgrades. But, given the size of the proposed allocation, Mack said voters should have a direct say in the matter.

"I thought it was important that it be a distinct discussion about what people wanted to do about the town office," Mack said. "I think it's very important that it's a town vote."

Otherwise, Mack said much of this year's Town Meeting agenda is fairly routine business. One new item is a proposed $5,100 allocation from the town to Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies, which is trying to raise money from area towns to support regional economic growth initiatives.

After hearing a pitch from SeVEDS last year, Selectboard members proposed the allocation as a separate Town Meeting article.

"We just put it to the voters," Mack said.

Mike Faher can be reached at mfaher@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.


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