ROCKINGHAM, Vt. – Library Board Chair Carol Blackwood and library director Ian Graham addressed the Rockingham/Bellows Falls/Saxtons River tri-board meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 26.
Blackwood thanked the joint board for their interest in hearing updates from the library, remarking that Graham’s term as director was approaching two years. “Things are going along quite well,” Blackwood reported. “We’ve got a lot of great, new programs.”
Graham explained that the library puts together their fiscal year budget every October and November, then presents it to the selectboard to review and include on the December town meeting agenda.
Graham said there were no significant changes to mention, and he had some good news for the board. A pricey budget item they had discussed last year, failing door locks, had been “fixed for nothing,” according to Graham, sparing the town the expense.
Graham suggested they consider a “reasonable, annual” library budget, mostly for maintenance of the historic building. The most recent renovation was completed 10 years ago, and the yearly budget for upkeep was never really established, but “would save money down the road,” Graham stated, “by tending to the things that need to be cared for in real time.”
One such project is the restoration of the library steps, which were removed during the renovation and not property reinstalled at the time. Graham felt that because of the building’s historical significance, they could apply for grant money to help cover some of the repair costs. Designed by Boston architects McLean and Wright in 1909, in the Classical Revival style, the building is one of only four Carnegie libraries in the state of Vermont.
Municipal Manager Scott Pickup reported on summer projects that were wrapping up, including work on Pine Street, to be completed by the end of the month, the last of the sidewalk improvement projects scheduled for this year.
Kati Gallagher, sustainable communities program director at the Vermont Natural Resources Council (VNRC), gave a presentation on walkability and community connectivity. She began by saying she was there wearing two hats, one for VNRC, and the other for Transportation for Vermonters (T4VT). Gallagher leads the VNRC program in their support of downtown revitalization, and increasing opportunities for housing, transportation, and infrastructure.
“T4VT is a group of service providers in the transportation sphere, other advocates, and folks working on transportation across the state,” Gallagher detailed. Their goal is to create an “accessible and sustainable transportation system, in a place that we know has some pretty real challenges related to living in a rural state with small communities.”
In addition to stimulating the local economy by providing pedestrian access to local businesses, increasing the walkability of a neighborhood helps support social connections, a sense of community, reduces crime rates, and boosts individual physical health.
Continuing discussion on the topic, Walk/Bike Committee Chair Marsha Stern was in attendance to give a progress update. Stern stated that the committee’s goals were to increase access for pedestrians and cyclists to local business communities, create trails connecting towns and villages to one another, and reduce the overall number of cars on the roads.
The committee was formed about one and a half years ago, and since then has spent time compiling research and collaborating with other organizations like the highway department, the Bellows Falls Downtown Development Association (BFDDA), the Rockingham Incremental Development Working Group (RIDWG), trails organizations, the historical society, and Local Motion, a Burlington-based group dedicated to making it “safe, accessible, and fun for everyone to bike, walk, and roll in Vermont.”
The committee is currently looking into the best ways to interact with, and get input from, the public, and meanwhile is moving ahead to apply for a municipal planning grant to fund a traffic study and create a safety plan for the entire town of Rockingham. One priority for the committee is to install a crosswalk where the Arch Bridge reaches the Vermont side of the Connecticut River.
Stern mentioned the approved Riverfront Park scoping study, and said the committee will be working with the Saxtons River group formed to oversee the park improvements. Stern’s committee will share their research with the Saxtons River group and consult on the design and construction. “The trail will be inclusive of bikes, walkers, and will be ADA compliant,” Stern explained. “It’s quite a project, but it’s going to be a crucial link.”
There was a brief conversation about whether the town had reached out to the railroad and the Great River Hydro Plant, since much of Rockingham’s riverfront real estate belongs to these two entities. Pickup remarked that they had and continued to do so.
The Rockingham Regional Planning Commission has acquired money from the state to start to study sidewalk conditions, specifically ADA accessibility, crosswalk locations, and connectivity between towns. They plan to report their findings “in the next couple months” to the joint boards.
Discussion of proposed revisions to town personnel policies and procedures continued, which would enable a much more efficient approach to handling any employee related issue, concern, or question, according to Pickup.
Progress on the fire department feasibility study is continuing in a positive direction, reported Pickup, and the departments now share the same interface with regards to fire information data. That system can eventually expand to include neighboring towns. Pickup is hoping to have a more fully formed presentation ready for the next tri-board meeting, scheduled for Nov. 28.
The very idea of the value of holding town meetings was debated, as presented by board members Rick Cowan and Bonnie North. Cowan and North suggested they poll town residents about how effective they felt town meetings were, and said they’d collaborated on ten “simple questions, or prompts” as part of a survey.
Cowan pointed out the value of “direct democracy” is diminished by the underwhelming attendance of most town meetings, and touted the value of reaching out to residents to see what other options they might be comfortable with. He suggested getting feedback via various websites, like Facebook, and said he would issue a press release in The Shopper Newspaper and the Brattleboro Reformer, to get as much input as possible.
North commented, “It doesn’t seem right to make big decisions with only 30 to 40 people in the room, in a town of almost 5,000.”