By MICHAEL FRETT
Messenger Staff Writer
GEORGIA – The Georgia selectboard welcomed a surprise visit from state representative and state senatorial candidate Corey Parent, R-St. Albans, during their regular meeting Monday night.
The selectboard also discussed the town’s deal with the new owners of the Georgia Mountain Community Wind, asking that a formula for property tax payments within the initial contract for Georgia Wind be reviewed in case its owners underpay.
The board also reviewed the minutes of other commissions in the town government, taking issue with an item in the Georgia Conservation Commission (GCC)’s minutes that considered altering hunting rules around Silver Lake Woods that, according to the selectboard, were explicit conditions of the town taking ownership of the pond.
Parent, the Republican candidate vying for the Franklin County senate seat to be vacated by Georgia’s Carolyn Branagan (R-Franklin), has been making frequent stops at Franklin County selectboards to “talk to constituents and see what they want from Montpelier.”
“I’ve heard a lot about what’s going on in St. Albans City and Town,” Parent said. “But I was in Fletcher last week, and they had a different list of concerns than the city. I’m sure the Town of Georgia looks at things differently as well.”
On the mind of the Georgia selectboard was the water quality of Lake Champlain, making Vermont attractive to businesses and updating the laws governing fire departments that, according to members of the selectboard, were outdated.
“The lake’s a big issue,” said selectboard member Tara Wright. “We have a lot of shoreline. It’s a mess.”
“We actually had 18 houses… that were reassessed and, because of the water quality, their value was driven down,” selectboard chair Matt Crawford agreed. “Obviously, we didn’t feel that in our grand list, but if it continues…” Parent answered by explaining some of the activity at the state level related to governing phosphorous in Lake Champlain’s watershed, praising farmers for making large investments in controlling their own runoffs while addressing some of the funding questions commonly raised about cleanup in the watershed.
While members of the selectboard sought to clarify what the state was doing to address that cleanup, with several members suggesting farmers took more of the blame while municipalities’ phosphorous contributions were overlooked, selectboard member Deb Woodward was curious about the state making grants for municipal projects improving water quality more available.
“Make more of that available,” Woodward said to the senate candidate. “We wouldn’t undertake something like that without a grant, and there’s not a town or city that would.”
Crawford had also mentioned to Parent the town’s concern over keeping industry in Vermont, citing a Georgia company – whose name he omitted during the board’s conversation with Parent – that is looking to expand out of state.
“There’s a lot of things that Montpelier does that makes [Vermont] uncompetitive,” Parent agreed, adding that a lot of his friends had left the state because they couldn’t find decent jobs within Vermont.
“I watched too many of my friends leave Vermont,” he said. “I was lucky to find employment opportunities here, and not everyone can.”
Crawford added that he hoped some of the state’s long-standing laws governing fire departments could be revised, making it easier for towns like Georgia to manage a modern fire department.
“This town has spent a lot of money realizing the statutes that govern fire departments were good post-World War II, but probably haven’t been revisited since,” Crawford said. “The 21st century fire departments operate under a different capacity.”
“The world we’re working in, in municipal government, is evolving rapidly,” Parent agreed.
Wright and Woodward both insisted on revisiting the formula that determined property taxes for Georgia Wind, concerned that the new owners of Georgia Wind would be paying only a flat rate for their property taxes rather than the morevariable rate outlined in the initial 2012 contract for the project.
The initial contract, which Georgia Wind signed with both Georgia and Milton, requires that Georgia Wind pay an extra supplement with their property taxes if their annual tax payment doesn’t equal or exceed $45,000. That contract, signed in 2012, was a ten-year contract.
According to Wright and Woodward, the new owners have insisted on annual property tax payments of $45,000 flat, which is why they asked that the formula determining property taxes on Georgia Wind be reviewed in case the amount owed for some years exceeds $45,000.
“I would like to task the town administrator with working with Green Mountain Power to shed some light, as they’re the ones power is being funneled to,” Woodward said, motioning to Georgia’s town administrator Mike McCarthy. “Not because I don’t think you have enough to do, but because I would really like to have the feather in our cap that we actually got some answers to this.”
“I just want to find out if we shorted the citizens five years-worth of extra money that we could be bringing in as pure revenue,” Woodward said, adding that she wanted to have that information on hand when the town renegotiates its contract with Georgia Wind in five years.
McCarthy agreed to look into the contract.
Hunting on Silver Lake
The selectboard, reviewing the minutes from other board meetings, said they were concerned with a suggestion in the GCC’s minutes that a section of the Silver Lake Woods be established as a “no hunting zone.”
According to members of the selectboard, forwarding that proposal would be against the initial agreement the Town of Georgia made when it took ownership of the Silver Lake Woods, which insisted that hunting and trapping could continue in the woods.
“It was suggested that a section of the Silver Lake Woods property be deemed a ‘no hunting zone,’ which is exactly what we said no to,” Wright said.
Crawford said that he’d reach out to the GCC and clearly explain the opinion of the board, which was largely in agreement with Wright.
“In the spirit of open communication, I will be very clear with them that there is no support for that proposal by this board at this time,” Crawford said. “When we agreed to the money for Silver Lake, we were very clear that hunting would remain in perpetuity.”
Crawford also mentioned that he was talking with members of the GCC about how to create a formal line of communication between the two groups, something he and the GCC agreed to pursue in a previous selectboard meeting.“I talked with Kent Henderson this morning, and he and Rob [Meader] are coming up with a list of communication options,” he said, referring to two members of the GCC. “He wants to come in in June.”
The selectboard had also reviewed agenda of an upcoming Georgia Planning Commission meeting and the minutes of the last Georgia Public Library meeting.
Monday night also included the unanimous approval of a tank replacement and other work on one of the Georgia Fire Department’s tankers, as well as a unanimous decision to table the naming of a new town road off of Red Barn Hill Road
Published in the April 24th Edition of the St. Albans Messenger