Debate Over Town Offices in Middlebury

Published 01/21 2014 10:43PM

Updated 01/21 2014 11:13PM

Trying to stop plans to build a new Middlebury municipal office, a Middlebury resident says he has the petition signatures he needs to get his plea put on the Town Warning.

Middlebury town officials are close to settling on a plan to build a new town office and gym. They say the current building has numerous issues, not least of them on the bottom floor.

There were water problems in here, there were rodent problems in here,” Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley said.

The bottom floor of the town offices served as the police headquarters until 2004. Now a chain and sign prohibit anyone from even walking the stairs to the floor.

“The problem is it doesn’t meet any building codes or safety codes,” Hanley said.

Town officials say the bottom floor also drives up heating costs since they have no way to section it off. With that in mind town officials have plans to build a new office without diving deep into taxpayers’ wallets.

We were trying to find a way to lessen that,” Steering Committee Chair Nancy Malcolm said.

Malcolm’s Steering Committee has settled on a $7.5 million project involving a land swap with and funding from Middlebury College.

-          The College gives the Town the Osborne Site.

-          The Town builds New Town Offices on Osborne Site

-          The Town  builds New Rec Center at Creek Road

-          The Town gives the College the former Unitarian Universalists Society parcel and the Osborne House is moved to this site.

-          The Town gives the College the existing Municipal site, the buildings will be demolished and a public park will be built.

Middlebury College would pay for $5.5 million of the $7.5 million project. The Town plans to borrow $2 million to go ahead with the project.

But some people are against seeing the Town give up the centrally located property the offices now sit on to the college.

“It seemed not a wise idea to turn this land over to private hands,” Michael Olinick said.

Olinick wants to see the town office stay on the current publicly owned property. Tuesday he told the town select board he has enough signatures on a petition to put his plea on the town warning.

Olinick says he thinks the town could renovate the current office or come up with a different plan for the same cost to taxpayers.

But Malcolm says no other funding opportunity existed to help keep the cost to taxpayers so low.

A town analysis suggests the project involving Middlebury College will cost a homeowner with a $200,000 property an additional $40/year. They estimate the tax increase for renovating the current offices at an additional $120/year while new offices and renovating the gym could cost an additional $130/year.

On Town Meeting Day voters can already expect a vote on the approval of the $2 million bond to complete the town office project. If Olinick’s petition does have the needed signatures, another warning would require voters to decide on keeping the town offices at the current property and keeping it publicly owned.

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