Selectboard grapples with town debt policy

by Heather McKim

Wake Robin was the scene for the April 9 meeting of the Shelburne Selectboard. The meeting addressed several new issues and settled a few old ones.

The Board approved the minutes from the March 12 meeting with two amendments made by member Toni Supple. The minutes had previously been tabled after extensive discussion initiated by Supple.

“This [note taking] is done by a professional… who does this for several towns,” Chairman Tim Pudvar said.

Minutes from the March 26 meeting were also approved with one minor clarification made by member Gary von Stange.

Another topic that had been previously addressed was that of the adoption of rules of procedure. After a brief discussion, the Board approved this with one minor change.

During the period for Selectboard comments, Al Gobeille talked of H526. The bill deals with Shoreland Protection rules. Gobeille said he wants the Selectboard to address this in an upcoming meeting.

Bohne announced future water line construction along Falls Road. This will provide better service, especially in terms of fire protection. It will be finished in early July.

Also, new orthophotos will be coming soon. The photos are valuable planning tools and will be the first such photos taken since 2004.

Police officer Josh Flore gave a presentation regarding his participation in the 2013 Police Unity Tour, which was designed to raise awareness of officers who have died as well as funds for the National Law Enforcement Officer’s Memorial and Museum.

Gobeille moved that the town donate $301. This was unanimously approved, and funds will be drawn from the Board’s discretionary fund.

Members also approved a request from Champlain Housing Trust for waivers from the Educational and Recreational Impact fees. The Trust will receive the maximum allowable amount of the waiver.

Chris Davis from Meach Cove gave a presentation regarding the Limerick Road Solar LLC proposal to install and operate a 2.2 MW solar electric generation facility and sought a letter of support from the Board.

The project will put 8,700 panels on a 15-acre parcel. These will generate enough electricity to power 300 homes.

Von Stange and Gobeille noted that the project is unique and that the Board’s support should not be seen as a precedent for future development projects. “There’s nothing else like this,” Gobeille noted.

Finance Director Peter Frankenburg presented information regarding the debt of Shelburne general operations, the sewer and water enterprise funds, and the potential of adopting a debt policy.

Frankenburg highlighted some important details of the town’s debt. He noted that state statute limits towns to borrowing no more than a certain percentage of their Grand List value. In Shelburne’s case, that dollar amount is $145,090,000. The town’s current debt is a fraction of that at just over $5.2 million.

Pudvar noted the value of the projects for which the town has taken out loans. “Our town is richer because of these things…Where do we see [the projects] as asset?”

“[They are] reported on in the financials, but there is [also] the qualitative side,” Frankenburg said, noting that the value of some things goes beyond the dollar amounts.

The sole Board member who expressed interest in implementing a debt policy was Supple. She had heard a supportive speaker of debt policy through Vermont League of Cities and Towns. Supple suggested a debt limit of 10 percent of the general fund amount.

“[We shouldn’t] hamstring the town with a restrictive policy,” Pudvar responded.

“I think what you pick for your target is subjective,” Frankenburg said regarding how numbers are selected.

“What you have to look at… is how… long term [the debt is]… How we choose to do large items [affects things],” Gobeille said. He noted that he prefers to focus on the Capital Plan rather than adopt debt policy.

Members wrapped up the meeting by approving liquor and tobacco licenses and rejecting a request from a resident for a waiver of the penalty for the late payment of sewer fees.

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