Ferrisburgh legal fees $18,000 over budget
FERRISBURGH — While dealing with two thorny legal problems during the current fiscal year the town of Ferrisburgh has overspent two line items devoted to legal fees by almost $18,500 and counting, according to Treasurer Deb Healey on Wednesday.
The Ferrisburgh selectboard has spent $24,102.15 on attorneys, plus a mediation firm, compared to a line item of $8,000, while the town’s zoning board has spent $6,337.90 compared to a budget of $4,000.
Many of the fees have been generated by two ongoing disputes.
One is between the town and the owners of the Vorsteveld Farm over the cutting of trees along Arnold Bay Road in April 2017, an act Ferrisburgh alleges was done illegally in the town’s road right of way. The Vorstevelds maintain they own the land and did nothing wrong, an opinion not shared by many of their Ferrisburgh neighbors.
The other is between the town and Sand Road dog rescuer Sheila McGregor, who the town alleges has allowed a rat infestation on her property to spread to her neighbors and is operating a non-conforming home occupation without a permit in a residential zone. McGregor maintains there are no more rats, and the statute of limitations has expired for the town to require a permit for her dog-rescue operation.
Despite the high costs, Healey is optimistic that because of savings elsewhere in town spending the town will not be in the red when the fiscal year ends on June 30, barring unforeseen circumstances in the next month and a half.
“I think there is plenty of room. In the aggregate we should not have expenses exceeding income,” the treasurer said. “We should not exceed the budget.”
Ferrisburgh Selectboard Chairman Rick Ebel said on Wednesday that the board would take steps if necessary to keep spending in the black.
“We may look at some projects we were looking at taking care of in maintenance, because we don’t want to run a deficit,” he said.
For example, he said, the town could postpone for a year repairing the tower and cupola of the Union Meeting Hall it owns on Route 7. Ebel said a recent inspection showed that work could wait without doing any long-term damage to the building.
Ebel also on Tuesday updated the selectboard on where things stood on those two disputes, and on Wednesday described the status of each to the Independent.
Ebel, Selectman Steve Gutowski, Ferrisburgh Tree Warden Cliff Mix and University of Vermont Extension Service expert Jeff Carter met with Hans, Gerard and Rudolf Vorsteveld and their attorney at Arnold Bay Road on Tuesday.
There, Ebel said, they discussed how, what kind of, and how many trees could be planted along the road without interfering with the tile drainage system the Vorstevelds plan to install to improve the fields that run along the east side of the road.
Ebel said the company that will install the system will provide GPS data to pin down where and how many trees can be planted, while Carter and Mix will work to identify species.
Still to be worked out is who will pay and how much to re-plant trees along the road, Ebel acknowledged, although he said trees would be planted and he remained confident the two sides could reach an agreement.
“We’re still gathering information to nail that down,” he said. “We’re still working out that detail where trees will be planted. We’re looking on doing the planting. We’re not going to leave it to them.”
Meanwhile two hearings are upcoming on what are the most immediate issues on McGregor’s Sand Road property, on which she has housed dozens of dogs for more than a decade. The situation has generated complaints from neighbors about noise, smells and loose animals.
On May 23 the Zoning Board of Adjustment will hold a hearing to consider McGregor’s appeal of the notice of zoning violation that Ferrisburgh zoning administrator Bonnie Barnes issued her on April 17.
That notice required McGregor to apply for a conditional use permit for her nonprofit dog rescue operation, with Barnes ruling it was a home occupation that required such a permit.
McGregor’s attorney said at a recent Ferrisburgh Board of Health hearing that the statute of limitations had expired because McGregor had been operating for 15 years.
On May 29 the board of health will reconvene to evaluate whether McGregor has met the requirements of a February order to deal with the rat infestation. According to Ferrisburgh Health Officer Jamieelynn Gaboriault there were signs of a rat infestation during a May 4 inspection and work remained to be done to conform with specific conditions.
McGregor said at a May 8 hearing more progress had been made, and told the Independent there were no more rats.
Ebel said at the conclusion of the May 8 hearing the board was prepared on May 29 to impose fines or pursue court action if it was not satisfied with the situation at that point.
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