Ferrisburgh to upgrade online meeting system

FERRISBURGH — Ferrisburgh appears to have new audio-visual equipment in its future. It will enhance remote viewing of meetings both in Ferrisburgh’s Route 7 town offices and in the building’s second-level community meeting room.

On Nov. 1, the town selectboard said they plan to put up to $15,000 of the town’s roughly $800,000 of American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds toward the estimated cost of buying and installing big-screen TVs and audio recording equipment in both those spaces.

Resident volunteer Jean Richardson, who is researching the matter for the board, said that money would be sufficient to buy four TVs (48-inch sets for each space, an 80-incher for the larger upstairs space and a 60-inch set for the ground-floor meeting room), enough “owl” microphones to record sound throughout both spaces, other associated equipment, and pay Best Buy to install it all.

“The whole thing is going to cost less than $10,000, even if we go with the most expensive option,” Richardson told the board at its meeting last week.

Board members believe the expenses would be an eligible use for ARPA funds, which are earmarked to help communities deal with the impact of COVID-19, because hybrid in-person/Zoom meetings remain necessary for the foreseeable future due to the pandemic.

And meetings of late have been plagued by sound and viewing problems, most notably a recent presentation by surveyor Tim Cowan on questions surrounding the true boundaries of Vergennes and its surrounding towns. Sound quality was so poor for that meeting that Ferrisburgh and Vergennes officials are asking Cowan to re-record the presentation, which they hope to make available on their websites.

Sound was better for last week’s public ARPA forum, but it remained difficult to hear audience members. Responding to a chat question, Treasurer Deb Healey said that deploying owls in the space would solve that issue.

The selectboard approved a motion to spend up to $15,000 on the equipment and installation, without specifying the source. Board Chair Jessica James clarified in an email later in the week that, “Once we get the bill we will authorize the payment via ARPA funds,” but it will still require federal approval.

In other business, the board:

  • In reacting to a question from a United Way of Addison County official decided that it would delay for “one more year” reinstating the requirement that nonprofits file petitions with signatures to remain on the Town Meeting Day ballot to request citizen funding support. The logic was that that is remained unreasonable to ask representatives to knock on doors during a pandemic.
  • Agreed to form a “Trails Committee” as moved by board member Clark Hinsdale. Hinsdale said such a committee could help preserve and enhance access to town trails, forest land (such as on Shellhouse Mountain) and its fishing access for snowmobile users, fishing enthusiasts, hunters and hikers, and help the town obtain grants to maintain and improve them.

Given that more and more land is being posted as private, Hinsdale said establishing the committee would be an especially timely act. The board said it would begin seeking volunteers for the committee, and that its first jobs would be to define its purpose and write a mission statement.

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