REPORT OF THE SELECTBOARD (FY2015)
Greetings, and welcome to your annual town report. Hopefully, you are looking at this while sitting in the town hall (with its repaired substructure) waiting for the Annual Town Meeting to start – after a thorough review of the whole report prior to the meeting of course! We are fortunate to live in a community where all registered voters can have a voice in how Worthington is run and what future directions we will take on important issues. Our small size makes this possible, but also increasingly more difficult as the world we live in becomes more complex, and our choices more difficult. Our responsibilities as informed citizens grow each year.
In the 2013 Town Report, we noted that we had come into possession of a copy of the Annual Report, Town of Worthington, for 1956. At that time the Selectboard met once a month. We had no full-time employees save for the highway department which annually cost the Town less than $61,000 for all services, equipment, wages, and materials. There was no broadband debate, or Moran property to discuss, or bridges to replace at a cost that is more than what was the annual Town budget sixty years ago, or a school to re-open with litigation still ongoing. I know many of us long for the simplicity of these earlier times. They are gone, as is our ability to entirely manage Town government with dedicated volunteers and part-time employees available a few hours a week.
As of this writing, the repairs on the bridge on Kinnebrook Road have been completed without closing the span. Most of you may not have even noticed this work was going on, save for the Sani-Can on site. Funding for the replacement of the bridge on Sam Hill Road has been secured (nearly $800,000) and this work will be accomplished during the summer of 2016. We will complete an inventory of the condition of other bridges, as well as culverts, so as to be prepared to take advantage of other state and/or federal funds as these become available. At the same time, the preparation work for the re-engineering and reconstruction for the entirety of Rte. 143 within the Town borders is progressing. This is, and will be, the largest road project ever undertaken by the Town.
The R.H. Conwell Elementary School re-opened last September after a five year hiatus. We truly are the little town that could! However, running our own school adds another layer of complexity to Town government as well as increasing our number of full-time employees manyfold. And while we have initially prevailed in the lawsuit brought by Gateway and others to force us back into the District, this is far from over. The plaintiffs have already filed a notice of intent to appeal the decision and this, too, continues to occupy an extensive amount of Selectboard members’ time and effort.
Then there is the ongoing discussion about how best to bring broadband to our community. Thanks to the Finance Committee for their work over the last year in examining both regional and Town-based solutions. Whether you are supportive of the regional concept advanced by WiredWest, an advocate for a town-owned and run system, or some third alternative, our learning curve on this important development issue has been steep and remains ongoing. You will soon be asked to make important decisions on what direction the Town will take, and how we will finance that decision, in a way that will affect the Town’s finances for years to come; perhaps the most important local decision we will have ever needed to make as informed citizens.
We could bring up the lingering indecision about what to do with Ralph Moran’s house, but we would rather raise it as an example of how we need to change the way we are debating important issues like broadband. As you know, we have now proposed, debated, and voted on all known possible ways of dealing with Ralph’s house. No majority has ever prevailed in a way that resulted in an action to sell, renovate, or take down the dwelling. We have paralyzed ourselves by our inability to agree and to compromise in a timely way – and in the meantime the house is decaying in front of our eyes. Our inaction means a decision has been made for us, not by us. This cannot happen with the broadband issue or we will just simply continue to have no broadband. As the options become clearer, due much to discussions currently taking place at the state level, we will do all that is possible to ensure you know what your options are and their consequences. However, when the time comes, it is imperative we make a clear decision, move forward, and live as a community with the benefits and consequences of that decision.
Some of you may question the ongoing trend to professionalize key Town functions, and we understand why the need is not always obvious. We used to have a single attorney who provided advice on all Town matters. We now have Town legal counsel that specializes in municipal law. In fact, we employ two firms: one to deal specifically with school issues. We have a school, and we know that their expertise in this area was key to that outcome. We continue to have a recording secretary available to all interested boards and committees so that they might focus on their work and to meet the increasing demand for transparency in local government. This past year, Town staff have responded to numerous public records requests, mailing hundreds of pages of meeting minutes and public records to those requesting them – often in regard to some action they are taking against the Town. Our ability to respond professionally is key to our protection of the Town. However, most importantly, it is also clear that some expertise and experience can no longer reside solely with Selectboard members who may choose not to run for re-election (or be defeated in re-election for that matter!). Too much of what needs to be done with regard to broadband, the school, roads and other ongoing issues doesn’t fit into an annual cycle, takes too much time, too much consistency of effort, and too much experience for new Selectboard members to immediately affect. We hope we do a good enough job at present that this problem is not obvious to you. It is obvious to us. Indeed many of those who could effectively participate in Town government will otherwise not be able to afford to do so. We wish to encourage young people to participate in government, not discourage them because they don’t have years of experience in education, or engineering, or broadband development. Professionalization of key Town positions, and the constancy and historical memory this provides, is essential to allowing those who can serve, who want to serve, to be able to do so effectively and with the best community outcomes.