Turnout for Edward Farrar’s annual Utility District election more than doubled this week from previous years, but the total number of voters who turned out could still fit in a school bus with plenty of room to more.
A total of 44 voters cast ballots in the elections held on Wednesday, re-electing three incumbent district commissioners who ran unopposed and approving four of the five items to be considered.
Since its formation in 2018 following the dissolution of the Village Municipality, the main function of the Utility District has been to oversee the operation of the municipal water and wastewater systems; it is funded by fees paid by customers for these services.
Although around 1,500 people are eligible to contest the district elections, turnout remains chronically low as it was when the village municipality was in place. Last year, 21 people voted in the annual elections; in 2020, there were 17 votes cast, according to District Clerk Carla Lawrence.
On the Article 5 ballot, voters approved 24 to 20 the transfer to the City of Waterbury of ownership of four properties previously owned by Waterbury Village. District and city officials agreed that water and sewer operations do not require the properties and are currently handled by shared city staff.
The plots that would pass to City ownership are: the approximately 50 square foot area with the Waterbury welcome sign near the roundabout; the 0.16 acre municipal parking lot on Elm Street adjacent to the Prohibition Pig Brewery; the 1.3-acre Rusty Parker Memorial Park; and the approximately 40 acres along River Road where the ice center, dog park, playgrounds, parking areas and trail to the Perry Hill trail system are located.
The Utilities District also owns 51 South Main St., the property where the city’s offices were located before Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. The building was razed and the land has since been made available for public parking. It is not included in the transfer item.
District commission chairman Skip Flanders said commissioners wanted to think more about what to do with the property. They have reported to Downstreet Housing that it may be considered for new accommodation.
The only item to fail was item 4. By a vote of 25 to 19, voters rejected the proposal to transfer to the city government two loan funds previously held by the village and currently under the control of the service district public: an action grant fund for urban development and a block grant fund for community development. The funds could be loaned to businesses in the former village of Waterbury. Under city management, they would be available to businesses from any part of the community.
The UDAG fund was established in 1984 to entice Ben & Jerry’s Homemade to set up its ice cream factory in Waterbury. Once repaid, the fund has since been used as a revolving loan fund for a number of businesses in the village. At the end of 2021, the value of the fund was more than $1.7 million with $1.12 million in outstanding loans and the remaining $646,000 in cash and investments, according to the district’s annual report. public services.
The CDBG fund is much smaller with a value of just under $75,000 at the end of 2021. Of this amount, $72,000 is currently on loan to the Ladd Hall Partnership for the apartments it has developed in a former state office building on South Main Street after Tropical Storm Irene.
At the May 3 briefing before the utility district election, City Manager Bill Shepeluk said the funds had been “a great boon to the community” over the years.
In January, during the city’s budgeting process ahead of city meeting day, Shepeluk offered to transfer the funds to city management as a step towards the eventual merger of the utility district with the government of the city. City and utility district officials had previously discussed ownership transfers last fall.
Shepeluk pointed out that the transfer of the funds to the city government would be nominal since voters in the utility district are also city residents. He pointed this out during the May 3 discussion of the Utility District election articles. “You’re really transferring money from your right pocket to your left pocket,” he said. “I think it’s good for EFUD. I think it will be good for the city and I hope it will be approved.
Asked Thursday about the election result rejecting remittances, Flanders said he was happy with the result. It turned out, Flanders explained, that the commissioners themselves had changed their minds on the matter after approving the warning for the annual election.
Flanders said he and others voted against the measure because they felt the move was premature. “We worried about the future of the funds to hand them over now,” he said.
The timing issue relates to the fact that the process has begun to find a successor to Shepeluk who is retiring at the end of 2022. Some council and utility district members have recently contracted with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns to facilitate this search. process and made the impending transition more real, Flanders said.
“We are happy with the way it has been used over the years and we have realized that Bill will not be there to manage it,” he said of the $1.7 million revolving loan fund. dollars. “We felt it was not fair to transfer at that time.”
Without approval to transfer loan funds, a related action will not happen now – the Public Service District will not receive $600,000 in federal funds coming to the city as planned by the selection committee this year.
The articles on transfer of ownership and transfer of loan funds were intended to be steps towards the ultimate merger of the utility district with the city government. During the city’s budget process, Shelepuk proposed and the select council approved the allocation of $600,000 of the $1.5 million the city is receiving from the U.S. Federal Bailout Act to the District of public services. The credit was intended to pay for the upgrade and integration of the Kneeland Flats mobile home park water system into the utility district system and possibly other water line upgrades along of route 100 depending on the costs.
But ARPA’s allocation to the utility district and the transfer of loan funds had to go hand in hand. They were presented as “quid pro quo” – ARPA’s funding allocation being conditional on EFUD district voters approving that the loan funds be transferred to city management.
“This means the city will not transfer the $600,000 in ARPA funds to EFUD,” Shepeluk said Friday. “The transfer depended solely on the UDAG transfer.”
Flanders said he accepts this consequence. “We plan to pursue other options” to move forward with the mobile home park system project, he said.
Meanwhile, ownership transfers were unrelated to the loan fund transaction. They can occur as specified in the article that voters approved, Flanders said, noting that they are already maintained by shared municipal staff.
Also on the ballot were two more items and three seats on the Public Service District Board of Commissioners up for grabs. None of the elections were contested. Lawrence “Lefty” Sayah, Natalie Sherman and Cindy Parks all received 40 votes. Sayah and Sherman were re-elected for one-year terms; Parks will begin a new three-year term.
Voters also approved Section 1 43-1 setting commissioner compensation at $1,450 for the president and $1,200 for each other commissioner. A sum of $1,650 was also approved for the District Clerk/Treasurer to include payments for 2020 and 2021 when the item was omitted from the ballot in error.
Article 2 was approved unanimously 43-0. It authorizes the district to borrow up to $200,000 for repairs and upgrades to the sewer system over the next year.
More information about the Utilities District is online at waterburyvt.com under Departments. the The 2021 annual report is online and printed copies are available at the town hall office. It contains budget information and reports from District Commissioners and the City Manager.