Selectboard gets cold feet on new stormwater utility

By Madeline Hughes

The Selectboard Tuesday decided against creating a new stormwater utility, refraining from adopting the ordinance that would have put the new system in place in July 2019.

That means stormwater costs will continue to be factored into property taxes for the upcoming year.

Still interested in creating the utility, the Selectboard set July 1, 2020 as a new target date for it to go into effect.

The board seemed swayed to delay adopting the ordinance because of the unknown repercussions it would have on the town’s two largest nonprofits: Shelburne Farms and Shelburne Museum.

Representatives from each echoed each other at Tuesday’s Selectboard meeeting, saying their properties – two of the largest contributors of impervious surface in Shelburne – were not comparable to the University Mall or the Burlington International Airport in South Burlington.

Impervious surface refers to the portion of a property covered by buildings, pavement or gravel preventing stormwater from being absorbed into the ground.

“Rushing to expediency will hurt Shelburne Museum and Shelburne Farms,” Shelburne Museum Director Tom Denenberg told the Selectboard. He urged the board to instead “find a Shelburne solution to the problem.”

Board members agreed to put a halt to the process.

“I’m inclined to push ‘pause.’ There is a little more work to do, I still believe we are headed in the right direction,” Selectboard member Jamie Heins said. “What worked in neighboring municipalities might not work here. More time to get this right seems like the right decision.”

Shelburne officials have been working closely with South Burlington’s Deputy Director of Public Works Tom DiPietro to create the stormwater utility proposal.

Shelburne chose to consult with South Burlington because the neighboring city has had such a utility for 13 years and is often seen as a leader on stormwater management in the state.

Shelburne’s Stormwater Advisory Committee that drafted the ordinance also consulted with experts from Colchester and Williston, who have created similar utility districts more recently.

The reasoning behind creating the utility was so that homeowners wouldn’t feel the brunt of the $3.5 million projects the town is required to do for the Munroe Brook Flow Restoration Plan and other stormwater infrastructure projects.

Shelburne Town Administrator Ann Janda said that the utility would operate on a budget of about $500,000 a year.

Under the proposed ordinance, single-family homes would be charged a flat fee of about $5.80 a month, billed quarterly. Other properties would be charged based on the flat fee with the area of impervious surface factored into the calculation.

About 72 percent of the revenue for the utility would come from commercial properties.

In an earlier presentation to the Selectboard, DiPietro showed that the amount of impervious surface that is on non-taxable land is 32 percent of the impervious surface in town, even though non-taxable properties account for just 19 percent of Shelburne’s land. The stormwater fee is tied to the amount of impervious surface on a property because that is what creates runoff, creating the need for stormwater management, he explained.

“Many municipalities choose this approach because it is more equitable than the keeping the costs on the tax rate in the sense that everyone, including tax-exempt properties, will pay the fee just as all users of the water and sewer systems do,” Janda said.

The town asked Shelburne Farms and Shelburne Museum to have representatives on the stormwater advisory committee, knowing they would be largely impacted by the fee, Janda noted. Shelburne Farms declined to send someone; Chip Stulen, director of buildings at Shelburne Museum, joined the group.

The committee created a 13-page manual of possible credits that would allow larger properties to earn up to 70 percent off of their stormwater costs. Janda told the board that neighboring municipalities kept credits to 50 percent, but because of Shelburne’s large nonprofits, the committee decided to increase the amount of available credits.

Town won’t move dog
park, for now

Dog park committee chair Bob Owens met with the Selectboard Tuesday to discuss the committee’s findings that there were no suitable alternative locations for the dog park.

In February 2017, state officials found the current dog park to be in violation of Vermont Wetland Rules. Last September, after working with state officials, the committee began looking for a different location for the park.

Vermont Wetland Program Manager Laura Lapierre said the state knew about the Shelburne Dog Park’s location on a wetland, but approved it because the original plans only called for limited changes to the site such as fencing, invasive plant removal, and lawn maintenance.

“Other activities, such as adding fill or digging ditches, would require a permit,” Lapierre explained.

The park was built in 2011 and over time improvements such as benches, landscaping, a gravel path, a washing station and a shed for maintenance equipment have been added.

An alternative location that offers these amenities has proved difficult to find.

Rep. Jessica Brumsted, D-Shelburne, was in attendance and she said she is hopeful that the state instead may approve continued use of the current site, especially given that the committee analyzed eight other potential locations with none being a good alternative.

“The (Department of Environmental Conservation) is interested in working with us,” she told the board.

That may mean giving up the benches and some landscaping. Owens said it is all up for negotiation for the park to stay at its current location. Town officials meet with state officials later this month continue discussions.

Ethics ordinance

The Selectboard continued making changes to the Conflicts of Interest Ordinance proposed by the Ethics Committee. The committee submitted their final draft to the town attorney a few weeks ago. The board hopes to approve a final version in November.

The draft contains several items that Selectboard members said they were not inclined to approve:

• The Ethics Committee’s draft was not clear on how funds would be allocated for its use. The Selectboard said the committee needs to ask for a budget, just like other town committees.

• The Selectboard said members of a committee cannot require fellow members to recuse themselves as the draft ordinance suggests.

Other news

• The Selectboard appointed John Day and Lauren Giannullo to the Development Review Board to fill vacancies from resignations. Day also serves on the Water Commission. Giannullo moved to Shelburne in May, and previously worked in historic preservation in New Jersey.

• The Selectboard will hold a hearing on the capital improvements plan on Nov. 14.

• The Selectboard went into executive session to discuss a contract with AT&T regarding equipment on the south water tank off Route 7.

The board in public session accepted changes to the lease agreement resulting in a $700 per month increase in rent for three additional panels on the tank.

• The board decided not to discuss the Vermont Railway lawsuit in executive session because of time.

The Selectboard adjourned at 11:12 p.m.

 

Updated at 3:05 p.m. a earlier version of this article misstated how many pages were in the town’s credit manual. There are 13 pages.

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