Town real estate deal in the works: Selectboard discusses in closed session

UPDATE: This report was updated to correct details regarding the police department budget increase and the grand list factoring into the draft FY20 municipal budget. 

By MADELINE HUGHES

On Tuesday night, the Shelburne Selectboard spent time in a closed-door session to discuss a potential real estate purchase while also holding off on finalizing the budget to go to voters on Town Meeting Day.

This was the third such session out of public view in recent weeks. Since December, town officials have held executive sessions in each of the past three Selectboard meetings to discuss a potential real estate purchase. 

Included in these meetings have been Town Manager Lee Krohn,  Director of Finance Peter Frankenburg, representatives from the fire and rescue departments, a town attorney and several others.

Tuesday night’s executive session included the board, Krohn, Frankenberg and David White, CEO of White + Burke Real Estate Investment Advisors, and Joe Wieth, senior project manager for the firm and the town attorney by telephone. The closed session lasted roughly 90 minutes.

When the board emerged from executive session, Chair Jerry Storey said: “The board is continuing to pursue a real estate initiative. We will be back Tuesday night for further discussion.”

When asked if the discussion would continue in a closed-door session or in public, Storey replied, “I’m anticipating it will be both.”

In attendance at Tuesday’s board meeting were Shelburne Fire Chief Jerry Ouimet, Deputy Fire Chief John Goodrich, Rescue Chief Jacob Leopold and Deputy Rescue Chief Devin Major. They were not included in the closed session. However, before leaving the meeting room for the closed session, Storey turned to the fire and rescue chiefs promising them an update later.

They left the meeting and did not wait for the board to return to public session.

The private discussions have occurred since the Selectboard’s Dec. 13 day-long budget work session where department heads laid out their budget needs for fiscal year 2019-20.

The Dec. 13 meeting minutes noted: “An old issue may be revisited, studying how and whether the fire station could expand or move elsewhere to a more appropriate and functional location; likely a joint, shared facility with Rescue, perhaps replacing two buildings that need work with one shared station. All Chiefs agree on the concept.”

Following that, the board met with Krohn, Frankenburg, Ouimet, Goodrich, Leopold and Major for about an hour on Dec. 18 at the regularly scheduled board meeting.

The group met again for about an hour at the Jan. 8 meeting with the addition of financial advisers White and Wieth. Also in that meeting was Andrew Martin, chief executive of Neagley & Chase, the construction company currently building the new Pierson Library and renovating the Historic Town Hall. Earlier in Tuesday’s Selectboard meeting, the board also worked on the proposed 2019-20 budget, heard from the Ethics Committee and listened to a presentation on the proposed school budget.

Tax rate

The Selectboard anticipates a 4.93 percent increase to the municipal tax rate under the proposed FY2019-20 budget. That would translate to a tax bill of about $420 for $100,000 of assessed property value.Town officials said debt service and worker benefits are two factors in the increase.

The police department budget, which accounts for about 19 percent of the overall municipal budget, would increase 4.8 percent in FY20 under the proposed spending plan. Benefits and investment in equipment factor into that jump.

The budget presentation also noted that a moderate 1 percent increase to the grand list lessens the budget impact on the tax rate.   

The Selectboard will continue the budget hearing at its meeting on Tuesday. 

Ethics rules and procedures

The Selectboard heard about planned revisions to the Ethics Committee’s rules and procedures to match up with recent  revisions to the Conflict of Interest Ordinance.

Ethics Committee Vice Chair Tom Little presented the changes to the board. The Selectboard asked the Ethics Committee to include information about what happens if an ordinance violation is reported to the Selectboard chair rather than to the committee. Little said he would look into it.

Selectboard member Dr. Colleen Parker said she was aware of complaints that took that approach.

“I know two instances where someone approached the chair and he was able to give advice or attempt mediation,” Parker said.

Board members also asked Little about how the target of a complaint is notified when it is filed. Little said the committee may not do so until after it determines whether a complaint merits a hearing. Board members said they thought notification should happen sooner in the process. “Tom, as we recently saw in this setting, we have someone who is being accused of something trying to defend himself not knowing he had the right to call witnesses to defend himself,” board member Mary Kehoe said.

She was referring to a complaint lodged against Development Review Board Chair Jeff Pauza. The committee had to reopen the hearing because Pauza did not know he could call witnesses on his behalf.

Little agreed to take the comments back to the committee.

“We’re going to get this right,” Little said.

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