Middlebury selectboard eyeing increase in infrastructure spending

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury municipal officials have spent the past several years diligently pinching pennies when it comes to the town’s property tax rate, but they will soon consider a sizable increase in investments in the town’s equipment, buildings and infrastructure.
The Middlebury Infrastructure Committee on Thursday agreed to recommend a fiscal year 2018 capital improvement budget of $948,418, representing an increase of $78,000 — or about a penny on the municipal tax rate — compared to this year.
It’s a draft spending plan that reflects:
•  A commitment of $755,668 to highway department needs, compared to the current $692,575. That includes $62,000 in upgrades to Middlebury’s gravel roads (including $5,000 for the graveled portion of Creek Road), as well as $60,000 to improve sidewalks on South Pleasant Street, Pulp Mill Bridge Road and Exchange Street.
Town officials are planning to introduce a sidewalk on Exchange Street, with phased investments during the next three fiscal years. Officials are proposing to earmark $19,900 in fiscal year 2018 for continued design and eventual construction of the sidewalk, which would extend along the entire length of Exchange Street — provided the town secures the necessary state grants.
•  Around $41,000 for the Middlebury Fire Department, up from $36,000 this year. The increase includes $5,000 for improved communications equipment for firefighters.
•  $60,400 for the Parks & Recreation Department, which is down slightly from the $60,649 allocated to the department this year. The budget, among other things, would provide for repaving of the municipal tennis and basketball courts.
•  $15,000 for the local police department, down from the $25,000 that was earmarked for this year.
•  $5,000 for the Ilsley Public Library, consisting of information and technology equipment.
•  $14,700 for the new municipal building, for computer software and funding for a looming townwide reappraisal of property values.
The proposed capital improvement budget also includes some special projects, noted Selectwoman Susan Shashok, chair of the Infrastructure Committee. Among them is $5,000 for an urban forestry study, through which a volunteer group will do an inventory of local trees and draft a plan to protect local trees from the emerald ash borer.
Also included is $5,000 for storm water management services, and $20,000 toward the eventual removal of some of the abandoned buildings at the former wastewater treatment plant property off Seymour Street. That funding, combined with allocations in future years, will also pay for new storage facilities for municipal property. Some of that property is currently being stored in the defunct, deteriorating wastewater treatment plant buildings.
This year’s capital budget draft also includes $10,000 for renewable energy projects to make town buildings more energy efficient. The Infrastructure Committee made that decision following a recent discussion with the town’s Energy Committee, according to Shashok.
One of the more interesting line items in the proposed budget is the set-aside of $20,150 in fiscal year 2018 toward a major, multi-year flood resiliency project designed to reduce the risk of future flooding of the Middlebury River in East Middlebury.
A Middlebury River Task Force a few years ago developed an “East Middlebury Flood Resiliency Plan,” following study of a 1.7-mile segment of the river stretching from the Sand Hill Bridge to the Route 7 Bridge. That plans calls for, among other things, restoring roughly 5 acres of floodplain between Lower Plains Road and Grist Mill Road; repairing the existing floodwall downstream of the Grist Mill Bridge; armoring 1,400 feet of the protective berm off Ossie Road; and extending the floodwall downstream of the Grist Mill Bridge by approximately 110 feet.
Amy Sheldon of Landslide Natural Resource Planning is serving as the town’s consultant for the project, which could cost around $1.8 million to fully implement and therefore require substantial federal funding. Shashok said the project could shrink in scope before being put to voters — probably next fall.
Shashok is also a member of the Middlebury selectboard, which will review — and possibly amend — the proposed capital improvement plan before Town Meeting Day voters get the final say on it next March.
She believes the plan as presented is a responsible one that helps the town catch up on some projects that probably should have received earlier attention.
“For the past five years, we’ve been saying, ‘We’ve got to trim this,’ and ‘We have to cut back on certain items,’” Shashok said. “That’s starting to catch up to us.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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