John Bennett, of the Windham Regional Planning Commission, and members of the Whitingham Planning Commission appeared before the selectboard. The purpose of Bennett’s presentation was to tell the board about what the WRC can do for Whitingham and what it is doing now.
Bennett presented the board with an agenda, calling the meeting a municipal consultation. Bennett commended the town for its excellent town plan and the way the town has been implementing the plan. Bennett stated that the WRC has an excellent mapping program, a brownfield program, and assistance in seeking historical designations for villages, noting that Whitingham was in the process of seeking a historic designation for Jacksonville and renewing the designation for Whitingham. Bennett said the WRC can help with road and culvert inventories, sign inventories, river assessment, project review consultation, and hazard and emergency planning. Bennett noted that the town’s emergency plan has to be reissued in 2013. A hazard plan, which Whitingham does not have, needs to be developed for 2013, mandated by FEMA. Planning help is also available.
Bennett asked where the WRC has been most valuable for Whitingham. Planning commission member Brad Lackey stated that the WRC helped in developing the town plan and zoning regulations. Planning commission member Jacquie Kincella said the WRC was helpful with mapping.
In response to Bennett’s question about what the WRC could do for Whitingham, selectboard member Alan Twitchell said Act 250 needs to be revamped to encourage development. Board member Keith Bronson said Vermont is perceived as being anti-business.
Town administrator Bonnie Jo Radasch felt that the educational programs offered by the WRC had been helpful to her. Radasch said that it was better to go to Brattleboro rather than Montpelier.
Bennett informed the board that the state was going to enforce its ancient road program, which some towns have ignored. Bronson noted that the deadline is usually pushed out, and the town had been working on its road designations.
Radasch asked about the fee Whitingham paid to the WRC and how many of the programs offered were funded by the fees from member towns. Bennett stated that the fees and funding from the state were the WRC’s source for its core funding and most of the programs were funded by grants.
Bennett praised Whitingham’s members of the WRC, stating that Jen Burnell had been very active in working with the WRC. Kristine Sweeter, the town’s second commissioner, introduced herself to Bennett. Sweeter is new to the position. Bennett asked if the WRC was communicating enough to the town. Radasch stated that she appreciated the communication being done electronically. Burnell felt that it helped her that she heard from the board via email.
Other towns have asked for help with the Public Service Board. Bronson said that when he was a member of the WRC he had asked for help fighting Vermont’s education law, Act 60. Board member Karl Twitchell said he would like to see the WRC promote green energy alternatives.
The current town plan will expire in 2015. Bennett urged the town to ask for help in any area, even those not mentioned in his presentation. Karl Twitchell urged the WRC to encourage technology development. Radasch felt that the WRC could do a better job on promotion and economic development. Bennett responded that the BDCC has offered to work with the WRC to promote economic development. Radasch also asked about how the town can recruit a veterinarian or encourage a restaurant to reopen in town.
Burnell asked how information about WRC activities could be disseminated. Bennett said the WRC produces a monthly newsletter and the minutes of all committees are posted on the WRC website. Bennett felt it was a very good question and more work could be done.
Bennett noted that the WRC was working with the town on the bylaws and the permitting process worked well. He said the WRC could help with the establishment of a DRB system if the town was interested. He noted that in small towns it can be difficult to find members for a new board.
Bennett told the board that Readsboro has a DRB system that seems to work well.
In other matters, the board discussed the WRC annual dinner. Sweeter and Bronson plan to attend the November 27 event.
Radasch told the board that the town’s health insurance premium would increase slightly but it was the best deal available. The insurance would be with the same carrier as last year.
The town receives a discount from its membership with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. Board members approved renewing the insurance.