Plymouth special meeting outlines three articles up for vote

UPDATE: All articles passed during Tuesday’s special election, with 70 Plymouth voters casting ballots.
Article 1: Allowing the Select Board to fund specific accounts passed with 56 voting yes; 14 voting no.
Article 2: Approving $950,000 to be spent on renovation of Plymouth town hall and garage building passed with 53 voting yes; 17 voting no.
Article 3: Approving the short-term rental ordinance passed with 44 voting yes; 36 voting no.


PLYMOUTH, Vt. – With a report of 300 homes having lost power in Plymouth during Monday, Dec. 6, and with the town office itself operating off a generator, approximately 15 Plymouth residents braved the wind, rain, and fog to attend in person, and nearly 20 others attended via Zoom for the special informational meeting to hear and discuss details at on the three articles up for vote in Plymouth Tuesday, Dec. 7.

The three articles to be voted on include: authorizing the Selectboard to assign fund balances to specific accounts; approving the sum of $950,000 be spent on renovations for the town hall, office and garage building; and approving a short-term rental ordinance.

Town Moderator Tom Harris led the discussion beginning with the first article to approve the Selectboard to assign fund balances. According to Board Chair Jay Kullman, the purpose of the article is to allow the board to put aside enough money each year in different funds to help with planning such as replacing large equipment or other upcoming expenses such as highway expenditures. He said the town would weigh in on how much money to put in to the accounts.

During this discussion, the board revealed that they currently have $1.2 million in the general fund that has accrued over time due to revenue outpacing expenditures and funding coming in during the aftermath of hurricane Irene.

Their plan is to maintain a lower balance in the general fund, approximately 15-20% of the Plymouth budget, and set up specific accounts for planned future expenses. Kullman said that last year the board used several hundred thousand dollars from the general fund to offset taxes, resulting in a town tax decrease for residents.

The meeting transitioned to Article 2, which requests that voters approve $950,000 for the renovation of the town hall, office, and garage building. Plymouth will be able to fund the project without loans by utilizing money in a building reserve fund and from the general fund. In a previous meeting, Kullman said there was $180,000 in a building reserve fund, and the balance would come out of the $1.2 million in Plymouth’s general fund.

The scope of the project includes repair of town hall roof, completing deferred maintenance, performing energy and weatherization upgrades, and the addition of solar panels as outlined in Option D by William Mcclay Architects.

Board member Rick Kaminski provided a history of the project, which included finding an energy audit from 11 years ago that detailed issues with air leaks, not meeting current energy codes, and a boiler nearing end of life. At that time, the report said that the building was costing 50% more to heat than others of its size. At that time, previous boards started a reserve fund to address the needed upgrades, a line item that has stayed in the budget each year and has also added to the size of Plymouth’s general fund.

Kaminski also outlined the building’s current issues, which includes leaks caused by ice dams, moisture resulting in mold, old florescent lighting, and an old boiler and garage doors. He also outlined their efforts to have contractors look at different options. After conflicting suggestions, the board decided to hire outside expertise with Mcclay Architects. The result was the energy audit, which provided four options to consider with the board selecting Option D.

Lead architect Bill Mcclay was at the meeting to walk the residents through his financial analysis of the building and discuss the Option D recommendation – “a pretty huge upgrade” which includes a high-performing energy “envelope” with a controlled air system with air source heat pumps, high efficiency electric and mechanical systems, new windows, foundation upgrades, insulation, new roof with R60 installation, and solar panels on the roof.

Mcclay outlined the span of options: that the deferred maintenance that is critically needed, would cost $500,000; and replacing the building from scratch would cost upwards of $2 million. He estimated all improvements would save the town over $400,000 over 30 years.

Plymouth resident Dave Olster clarified that this wasn’t a construction estimate and that the project would be put out to bid with construction companies. Olster then asked about what would happen if the project cost came back higher.

Kaminski said that if approved by the town, they would put it out to bid and expect costs at end of February, prepare in March, and start construction in the spring with a plan to be done by fall. He did admit that costs are fluctuating a lot at this time and could be higher. He later said that if bids come in higher, they’d revisit it with the town.

Board member Keith Cappellini said that he did not vote for Option D, but agreed with the other board members that something needed to be done and that the cost of materials will only get higher. He did say that Kaminski had an incredible amount of experience and that he is doing everything he can “to get it right.”

Dana Dolloff, an online participant, asked about strengthening the building to handle the snow load and was assured by Mcclay that the roof would be reinforced to code to handle the proper snow loads.

Todd Menees, also online, said it was a very good decision to correct deferred maintenance, and bring the building to current design and building standards. He also said that residents would be paying less in taxes because of cost savings from better energy efficiency. “I’m for that,” he said.

Article 3, concerning a short-term rental ordinance, received the most pushback from residents, particularly concerning fees and enforcement.

Kaminiski provided an overview of the issue, saying it was in response to complaints received a year and a half ago. As a result, a committee was formed and an ordinance was developed, which was updated based on public input along the way, and been vetted through a legal review. Kaminski said the ordinance is broken into two parts: life safety including smoke and CO detectors, egress from bedrooms, and other fire safety issues; and nuisance complaints including noise, garbage, lights, and parking.

Residents who rent out rooms, apartments, or whole homes will need to register with the town and will need to pay annual fees based on rental occupancy as well as a filing fee. The base fee is $200 and each additional bedroom will add another $100. A $40 filing fee is also required. They would then be visited by the Fire Marshall and need to receive approval to rent. There are also several fines included in the ordinance based on the seriousness of the infraction.

Jim Allen, Plymouth’s zoning administrator, will initially take on the extra workload, but the town would hire a part-time assistant if needed, whose salary would be covered by the fees.

Plymouth resident Tom Derlinga equated the ordinance to putting another tax on residents and added, “And then you’re going to penalize us for things we don’t have control over.”

Resident Jim Tepper said he supported life safety element of the ordinance but noticed the fees were significantly higher than past iterations he had seen.

Kaminiski said that fees went up as drafts got developed and that the expected increased cost of enforcement drove that.

Resident Frank Vetere said the policy is set up so good citizens and those who are behaving well are paying for the “misbehavers.” He also said that absentee landlords would be a problem. Kaminski later said that when registering owners would have to have a local property manager or contact for authorities to talk to in the event of an issue.

Resident Tina Fletcher asked how they were planning to address the approximately 25% that won’t register their properties. She asked whether the enforcement person could proactively search for listed Plymouth properties for rent through VRBO and AirBnB to make sure those people are registered too, which Kaminski agreed was a good idea.

Kaminski said the process of getting to a final ordinance didn’t happen overnight and that they can modify it over time as necessary. He iterated that it was now up to the citizens to vote it up or down.

An out-of-state property owner, participating via Zoom, said he was in support of ordinance and happy to pay the annual fee but would not want to be restricted to a limit of 30 rental days, like the town of Woodstock has done. Kaminski said the committee had discussed that and decided against limiting the number of days to rent.

The vote on the articles took place Tuesday, Dec. 7 at the Plymouth Town Hall. When available, results of the vote will be updated in print and online.

The next Plymouth Selectboard meeting is scheduled for Monday, Jan. 3 at 6 p.m. at the Town Hall.

Back To Top