Hermitage appeals water/sewer shutoff

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WILMINGTON — After missing a deadline Wednesday to pay delinquent water and sewer payments, the Hermitage Club appealed a decision to shut those services off.

Kimberly Hicks, administrator at Cold Brook Fire District, told the Reformer Thursday the Hermitage Club's new Finance Director Chad Bullock called to ask whether a minimal payment could be made.

"As a tax collector, citing the past delinquencies and the fact that this is six months past due, the full amount would need to be paid to avoid shutoff," she wrote in an email. "In response to this, based on our policy and the Vermont Statute, they are allowed to appeal my decision and ask for an appeal hearing to the Prudential Committee."

The Prudential Committee, which governs the Cold Brook Fire District, will hold a hearing Saturday at 9 a.m. If the committee decides there is no reason to grant the appeal, Hicks said she will recommend that services be shut off by the end of office hours on Monday unless the Hermitage pays the full amount.

The outstanding water and sewer bills add up to $87,000.

The Hermitage runs a private ski resort at Haystack Mountain, a golf course, and inns and restaurants in the Deerfield Valley.

Select Board Vice Chairman John Gannon, who also serves as a state representative, reported the missed payment during a meeting Wednesday night and the Reformer learned about the appeal afterwards. Bullock, who saw a tweet about his comments, sent an email to the Reformer and Gannon.

"The Hermitage Club is working through all of our payables and stories like this add no value but add panic to an otherwise settling situation that has greatly boosted the local economy, including the expansion of the CBFD," Bullock wrote. "The Club employs 550 people who get checks every other week and they do not appreciate being freaked out by such reports."

Gannon denied a claim that he was basing his comments on rumors he had heard.

"Start paying your bills on time and these problems won't happen," he wrote.

Gannon told Bullock and the Reformer he received information from an official at Cold Brook then immediately reached out to Anthony Coniglio, chairman of the Hermitage's Finance Committee, who said the company's restructuring officer was handling the matter. Gannon said he then voiced concern to Coniglio that a shutoff "might be more expensive than the Hermitage understood since it also shuts down the fire suppression system."

"I raised the matter at the Wilmington Selectboard meeting because our chair asked if we had heard from the Hermitage about paying the property taxes they owe the town," Gannon wrote in the email. "We had met in December with the Hermitage about creating a payment plan and had not heard back if they would agree to the plan. I thought it was important for the board to know that the Hermitage had missed a payment deadline with CFBD since this might indicate the Hermitage's response to our proposal or the Hermitage's inability to pay the taxes they owe us."

Last month, the company made a late $118,000 payment to Cold Brook for money owed on a $3.1 million bond taken out for upgrades to the district's infrastructure to assist with development planned by the Hermitage.

If the payment had not been made, Cold Brook officials planned on taking away water and sewer rights. That would have presented issues with state permitting because a wastewater plan is needed to move forward on future construction projects. Under an agreement between the two groups, Cold Brook is not responsible for making payments on the bond. But the district covered a November bond payment for the Hermitage by using reserve funds.

"We plan on keeping payments with our obligations including the Cold Brook Fire District," Jim Barnes, company founder and president, told the Reformer last month.

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.

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