Snowmobile safety a priority in Wilmington

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WILMINGTON — As the snow begins to fall, local officials want the roads to stay safe and snowmobilers to stick to roads approved for their travel.

Members of the Wilmington Road Crew expressed concerns when the Select Board was asked earlier this month to approve use of certain town roads for snowmobiles this winter. The board delayed voting until affected groups could weigh in.

"Our goal at Chimney Hill is to help people out of Chimney Hill, not ride in the lap of Chimney Hill," said Ken Spicer, executive director of the housing association. "We've created trails and helped owners with direct access or town-road access."

Spicer was asked to attend Wednesday's Select Board meeting, where roads were approved for snowmobile use.

The topography of Chimney Hill makes it "impossible" to develop more trails, he said.

Spicer suggested creating a committee to address safety issues. It would be difficult to post additional signage this year as the ground was freezing, he said.

Members of the housing association are sent lists with approved roads for snowmobiling. Like Road Crew members at last meeting, Spicer spoke of the few who would not follow the rules.

"There's always going to be the 10 percent, the wingnuts," he said. "I'd say, no matter how many signs you post, they're not going to follow the rules."

Wilmington Police Chief Joe Szarejko said Chimney Hill, the Deerfield Valley Stump Jumpers

Snowmobile Club and the police department have worked "very closely" over the years.

The club submits a request to use town roads every year. Some requests are declined.

"We're dedicated to the safety of everyone on the roadway," said Szarejko. "There are a lot of people who come up and rent their houses and use it as a point of direct access to the snowmobile trail where it's not. That's where we've had issues. I don't think it's a huge issue."

Similar incidents also occur in other parts of town, Szarejko told the board.

"They think this is the country, the land of milk and honey, 'we can ride wherever we want,'" he said. "I don't know that it's that big of an issue."

The Select Board showed support for the snowmobile community and trails.

"We are big proponents of the snowmobile trail and we don't want to see the trail shrinking," Select Board Chairman Tom Fitzgerald said. "I think with a little bit of caution and explaining to people what is is, I'm sure I would want to extend it. I wouldn't want to confine it or restrict it."

On posting additional signs, board Vice Chairman John Gannon agreed with Spicer, who said they might help.

"We don't want to discourage snowmobiling," Gannon said. "Not at all."

In other business:

- A sign will be changing at 107 East Main St.

"Rite Aid is changing their name to Walgreens so we have a new liquor license application," Town Administrative Assistant Jessica DeFrancesco told the board as members acted as liquor commissioners. "They're hoping January but they're not sure. It's not immediate."

- Wilmington's support of efforts by the Brattleboro Development Credit Corps. and Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies was applauded by BDCC Executive Director Adam Grinold. The Select Board approved the annual funding request for SeVEDS. The $5,628 will come from the town's 1 percent local option tax fund.

"Not all communities understand the significance of economic development," said Grinold, a Wilmington resident. "Wilmington understands it not only here locally, but in respect for the regionality in that effort."

He mentioned Wilmington's work with other towns such as Dover and Whitingham in bi-town and tri-town committees. And several Wilmington residents are on the SeVEDS board.

A "great turnout" at a marketing workshop in Wilmington was reported by Sarah Lang, southern Vermont economy project manager at SeVEDS.

Grinold spoke of a document that will see Bennington and Windham counties identifying common goals and projects to enhance the region's economic future. Previously, Windham County went it alone on a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy.

"Very good," said Fitzgerald.

- The Select Board is looking into the possibility that it might be taxed by the state if the town were to give 1 percent money to the Hoot Toot and Whistle Trail Club. The club hopes to get $2,100 to install a bike pump track at Twin Valley Elementary School, where a trail system is being designed on about 25 acres.

"If you could imagine a dirt loop the size of this room, just a circle, has a number of waves and curved turns," said Mike Purcell, head of the club, describing a pump track. "It allows the cyclists — whether 6, 8, 58, what have you — to ride this thing like a roller coaster."

Purcell said pump tracks provide "a lot of joy and interest in that kind of sport." The Putney School has one.

Since the project is on school property, board members worry the allocation could be subject to taxation due to rules on state education funding. Vermont League of Cities and Towns will be consulted.

"The state wants its share," Fitzgerald said. "What we can do is, rather than say yes or no here tonight, we can make an inquiry. Perhaps things have changed. Any connection at all with school kids and the funding of it puts us in a tough spot."

- The town did not provide Southeastern Vermont Community Action with funds in last year's budget. It looks like that will change this year.

"We left you off the budget last year," Fitzgerald told SEVCA Executive Director Steve Geller. "We did it for a reason. We hadn't heard from anyone in SEVCA in some time."

Geller told the board, "We take some responsibility for not being visible last year." But the social service organization has been grateful for the town's support in previous years, he said.

"It's been very important support as it has been with other communities we serve. It's not a huge part of our budget but it's a very significant part of our unrestricted budget," Geller said. "Those are the dollars we are able to have control over."

State and federal funds are helpful, Geller told the board, but they come with certain stipulations around eligibility and types of services his group can provide with the money. Municipal dollars "we can use as we assess the needs in our community," he said.

The group helps local residents get access to fuel and housing in emergencies or crises. It also works to prevent homelessness and guide people through health insurance enrollment.

- The local option tax revenue for July, August, September and October was up over last year, Town Manager Scott Tucker reported. The latest receipt was for $92,656. Last year's was $87,980.

"I know there are businesses that are hurting," Tucker said. "But overall, their receipts are up."

Gannon urged Tucker to get comparisons over the last three years.

"It's one of the only economic benchmarks for this town," Gannon said. "It's one of the few indicators we have."

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


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