CAVENDISH, Vt. – Monday night’s town meeting was fairly quick and straightforward, as residents gathered for the opportunity to discuss the Articles on the warning and present any questions or concerns they have.
With a full gallery at the elementary school, and 17 people attending via Zoom, no one in attendance had additional comments as the first two Articles were read. Article 1, asking voters to elect town officers for the ensuing year, and Article 2, requesting that the town vote to collect all taxes, were uncontested. Article 3, pertaining to the adoption of the FY 2023-2024 Town Budget as approved by the select board, in the amount of $1,950,584.99, generated a few questions from citizens.
One line item in the budget is $25,000 for the Sheriff’s Department. Sheriff Ryan Palmer had initially requested $70,000 in funds for his department to cover the new and improved plan he presented earlier this year. Town Manager Brendan McNamara explained that the town was unprepared to accommodate such a large increase in the sheriff’s budget within the current fiscal year, an expense normally bid at $18,000 annually. The increase to $25,000 was as high as the town was willing to go, with the understanding that a compromise and redistribution of duties and hours would need to be worked out with Sheriff Palmer.
Presenting the newly assembled ARPA Fund Committee, Committee Chair George Timko stated that the plan was to reach out to the public for input on how to best use the ARPA funds, approximately $421,000 appropriated to the Town of Cavendish. Timko noted, “We will receive applications for certain projects, review them, and determine which might be the best. Then, we’ll recommend those to the selectboard, who will make the final decisions.” Timko named the committee members, including Stephen Plunkard, Wendy Regier, Betty McEnaney, and Peter LaBelle. McNamara will serve as committee clerk, a non-voting role. The committee will meet once per month, with times, agendas, and minutes posted on the town website. Timko encouraged residents to respond with input.
LaBelle was asked to explain what ARPA funds are, and state some of the rules for appropriating the money. “This is not AARP, but ARPA, or the American Rescue Plan Act,” joked LaBelle. “As a result of the Covid pandemic, 1.9 trillion dollars in direct relief to the states was granted by the federal government, and from that, 350 billion went to the states, with about 200 million coming to the state of Vermont.” LaBelle noted that all funds must be spent by 2026.
LaBelle listed the four ways the town will be allowed to spend the money; responding to a public health emergency, providing additional funds to essential workers during the pandemic, funding government services or supplementing lost revenue, or to make necessary investments in infrastructure, such as broadband internet. “We can use [the money] for just about anything that the government can do,” stated LaBelle. “Construction of buildings, providing health services, road maintenance, environmental, or police, fire, or public safety expenditures.”
McEnaney stated that the money can also be put toward municipal business operations, such as digitizing records, establishing remote access to meetings, or improvements to water and sewer systems. There is the community side of expenditures such as improvements to outdoor recreation opportunities like area trails, parks, bike and pedestrian pathways, and any number of ways the money can be used. The public is encouraged and invited to weigh in and voice their ideas for town improvements.
LaBelle noted the funds were “not meant to pay bills but to benefit the community.”
The committee will distribute a questionnaire for anyone with “an interest in Cavendish” to fill out, which will be made available on the Cavendish website and various locations around town. April 15 is the deadline to identify community needs and collect input on how the town wishes to use the funds.
Tuesday, March 7, 2023, from 10 a.m. – 7 p.m. at the Proctorsville Fire Department, voters will make their voices heard.