Town eyes sewer, auditor issues

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury selectboard members at their Feb. 10 meeting put in motion a plan to eliminate elected and unfilled town jobs they say are no longer needed — that of three auditors.
Doing so will require a change to the town charter that will in turn require approval by the Vermont Legislature, which can only come after two public hearings and a town-wide vote in Middlebury to be held on April 28.
Even then, Selectboard Chairman Dean George said in a later interview, the decision could not become official until a Town Meeting Day 2016 town-wide vote.
“It’s a pretty cumbersome process. It’s probably why it wasn’t initiated before,” George said, adding that, “Many towns have already gone through this process.”
Middlebury’s elected auditor positions have been vacant for at least a decade, George said, and probably longer.
“I can’t remember when there’s been anyone on the ballot for it,” he said.
Nor are the auditors’ duties relevant. According to town statutes, the auditors have two jobs: Performing audits of annual town spending and setting selectboard pay.
But George noted professional audits are now required, and if any change in selectboard pay is contemplated — members have no interest at this point, he said — it can be proposed at town meeting and subject to voter approval.
Public hearings on the question will be held at 7 p.m. at town offices on Tuesday, March 24, and Tuesday, April 7, and an informational meeting is scheduled for Monday, April 27, the day before balloting.
If residents support the charter change on April 28, the selectboard hopes for quick action by lawmakers to allow the question to be placed on the Middlebury town meeting warning in 2016.
“We would hope they could act on that before adjournment,” George said.
At that same meeting this past Tuesday, the board also agreed to hire Phelps Engineering to design and oversee a construction project to solve a sewer problem on North Pleasant Street. A recent investigation by town personnel discovered, to their surprise, that three homes’ private sewer lines are not properly hooked up to sanitary sewer mains, but instead to storm water sewer mains.
The homes are on North Pleasant Street between the intersections of Seminary Street/Methodist Lane and Elm Street/Stewart Lane; two are on the west side of the road and one is on the east side.
Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay said on Thursday the town would pay to attach the homes’ private lines to the correct mains, although she could not rule out homeowners being responsible for problems discovered with lines on their own properties.
“We’ve been collecting their sewer fees for these years. It’s our responsibility to get them hooked up,” Ramsay said.
Why the homes were not hooked up properly remains a mystery. In a memo to Ramsay that she shared with the selectboard, Director of Operations Dan Werner wrote, “It is unknown why they were not connected years ago.”
George said the problem was uncovered when town workers were trying to resolve another issue: Phosphorus was showing up in the town’s stormwater.
The phosphorus was traced to North Pleasant Street, and tests pinned down the source as the three homes. One homeowner said tests were conducted on toilets in his building.
Werner’s memo said a North Pleasant Street manhole will be replaced as part of the project, and George said pinning down the exact location of the sanitary main will also be on the to-do list.
“Part of the process is going to be locating the sanitary system and figuring out how best to tie them into it,” he said.
In other business, the selectboard:
•  Discussed at some length how the town should handle the issue of solar arrays now installed with only limited local say or approval rights. George said board members are talking with planning commission and energy committee members about town right of local review.
“We’re trying to come up with some sort of plan that would come up with the best location for these things and hopefully give us some opportunity to approve them or not,” George said.
•  Reappointed long-time Green Up Day coordinator Peg Martin to her post, and appointed selectboard member Laura Asermily as the board’s representative to the Middlebury Area Land Trust. That post had been vacant since former board member Victor Nuovo resigned last year.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected] author is the former owner of one of the North Pleasant Street homes described in this story. 

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