Panton to vote on town hall upgrades

PANTON — Panton residents will make key decisions about the future of their town hall in March — but they won’t make them in town hall, and one decision will have to wait for another day.
Panton selectboard Chairman Howard Hall said the board recently decided to hold town meeting at a site that is “an officially ADA-qualified location.”
That statement on the Americans with Disabilities Act does not apply to Panton Town Hall because it lacks handicap access to the second level, and that second level lacks handicap-accessible bathrooms. Australian balloting, however, will still be held in the clerk’s office in the town hall basement, which does have handicap-access provisions. 
Hall said the Panton town garage, which is accessible, is a leading contender to host town meeting, but he could not yet confirm a site.
At the same time, he regrets many town residents will not see the many new energy improvements to town hall, mostly done with the help of Green Mountain Power.
“I’m disappointed because I’d love to show off our new heat pumps and how our building looks,” Hall said.
One of the financial decisions to be made at town meeting would correct the problems that led the selectboard to move the meeting.
The board is asking residents to approve using $100,000 from a surplus — called an “undesignated fund balance” — in the town’s general fund to pay for a new handicap access ramp to the second level and the renovation of that floor’s two bathrooms to be handicap accessible. If any funds are unspent, the board would like them to remain in a fund dedicated to town hall repairs and maintenance.
Hall said board members believe the town must dedicate these funds — which he said derived from a good deal on a paving contract two years ago and savings on winter road maintenance from recent mild winters — toward creating mandated handicap access to Panton Town Hall.
“The board is saying you will put a ramp and put in the ADA bathrooms because that is federal law,” Hall said. “I don’t even know what we would do if it were voted down.”
That surplus totals about $141,000, according to town officials, and the board will ask at town meeting for another $40,000 to be put into the town’s Highway Capital Equipment Fund to help pay for a new Mack truck with a plow and other attachments. The board also will ask permission to borrow another $25,000 to complete the purchase.
The board is also looking for permission to borrow $100,000 to finally put Panton Town Hall’s cupola back on its roofline. It was removed a number of years ago to reduce the cost of a roofing project.
 Panton still has $15,000 remaining on a $25,000 Cerf Foundation grant to use toward the project, once roughly estimated at $75,000. But Hall said the board wants to be sure to have enough funding on hand to complete the work if residents support it — he called $100,000 a “safety net” number.
“We haven’t had official bids,” he said. “You never know what you’re getting into, especially with an older building.”
Hall said the selectboard did not want to take an official position on the cupola.
“If the citizens want to put that on the building, I’m sure the citizens will enjoy it,” Hall said. “But it’s the citizens’ choice, not necessarily ours.”
The board at the last minute also removed an article that was popular when town residents were surveyed: installing a $55,000 kitchen area in the second level, one that could be used “for public functions.”
Hall said relevant information expected from Panton’s Town Hall Committee by the end of last week did not arrive: What was needed was confirmation from the state whether town hall’s septic system could handle an additional wastewater source.
With that information uncertain, Hall said the selectboard was not comfortable putting the question on the warning. And because financial decisions must be warned, with a deadline of this past Friday, Hall said, the kitchen cannot be considered at this town meeting.
 “We had not received that confirmation as of noon as of Friday, so the warning went out,” he said, adding the cost is also uncertain at this point. “There’s some disappointment on this.  Until we know exactly what regulations we have to follow, we can’t say if we can build this.”
Hall acknowledged once all the information is in hand the selectboard could call a special meeting at some point to deal with the kitchen question, but said it was not his call alone to make.
“I don’t want to speak for the selectboard,” he said. 
The selectboard is also proposing a $686,102 general fund budget, one that calls for an increase of $38,700 that is largely driven by the higher cost of employees’ health insurance.
Meanwhile, Hall estimated that the current project to fix the stairs to town hall’s second level is between 70 and 80 percent complete, and he hope residents are happy about that and other work already done to town hall as well as the proposed upgrades.
“I’m really excited, and I hope people are excited, also,” he said. 

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