Wednesday, March 16, 2016

MOUNT HOLLY ADVISORY COUNCIL A Report on MEETING #2 ON UPDATING THE MOUNT HOLLY TOWN PLAN

MOUNT HOLLY ADVISORY COUNCIL A Report on MEETING #2 ON UPDATING THE MOUNT HOLLY TOWN PLAN Featuring Community Organizations Monday March 7, 2016, 6 p.m., Gym in Mount Holly Elementary School Present: At the Table: Ed Bove, Executive Director, Rutland Regional Planning Commission Advisory Council: Present: Peter Berger, Alyson Blodgett. Absent: Don Eatmon, Peter Veysey Supporting: Ted Crawford, Chair Select Board; Bill McGrath, Chair Planning Commission Audience: About 16 persons Organizations represented: Mount Holly Library Mount Holly Community Association Chit Chat Mount Holly Conservation Trust Community Guild Oddfellows Garden Club Mount Holly Community Historical Museum Mount Holly Barn Preservation Assn Apologies: Mount Holly Flash, Randy Bixby Questions that formed the agenda of the meeting were distributed on the Mount Holly Flash on the morning of the meeting. The questions for Community Organizations were: General Questions:  Do you feel you have adequate space/equipment to serve the town?  What changes over the past five years have affected your organization’s ability to provide services?  Do you anticipate the need for additional requests for town funding? Community Group Questions:  Do you have a capital fund to pay for future repairs and needs?  How does the lack of volunteers effect your organization and what is the future of your organization?  The existing town plan refers to “locally defined needs.” Can you offer any specifics as to those needs from your organization’s point of view?  Can you suggest any new ordinances or state regulations that would facilitate your delivery of services?  The existing town plan refers to “anticipated future demand for services and facilities.” Do you have anything to add regarding future demand from your organization’s point of view? Capital Town Support: Some community organizations receive some Town support: the Library which was voted $12,000 at 2016 Town Meeting, as was the Chit Chat which received an appropriation of $2,500**, and the Barn Preservation Association $100 from Social Services Fund. The Oddfellows is exempted from property taxes; the Community Association shares insurance of the Community Center /Library building with the Town (once the building – donated to the town by the Methodist Church – ceased serving as the Town Office, it was rented for $1 per year to the Mount Holly Community Association for use as a Library. Both are tax-exempt non-profit corporations that share the maintenance of the building.) Some expressed the belief that other towns were more supportive of community organizations than the Town of Mount Holly. No one mentioned any intent to request more town funding. Other Support: Although this question was not asked, it was clearly stated that all organizations depend on community support. And while Mount Holly is noted for its active community life, it is also true that a substantial number of its organizations have found it necessary to form non-profit 501c)(3) tax exempt corporations to be able to raise donations. The community has been amazing with donations that have supported large building renovations for the Community Historical Museum (Perkins House), the Library, and the creation of the Community Room. With a major fund-raising effort the Mount Holly Conservation Trust was able to conserve the Seward Farm land on Route 155, and it has also raised support for the conservation of large parcels adjacent to the Okemo State Forest that have extended the bear corridor by creating a link between the northern and southern parts of the Green Mountain National Forest. The Mount Holly Conservation Trust conducted a major fund raising effort (led by its committee, Friends of Star Lake – FOSL- which began as a free standing organization) to supplement the donation received from Patricia Nye for the reconstruction of the condemned dam on Star Lake - a dam owned by the Town. A substantial portion of the Chit Chat’s budget comes from donations. The Community Association raises funds by direct solicitation and through some of its events. The Barn Preservation Association formed a Revolving Loan Fund with donations and with that fund is able to assist owners apply for and receive state grants to repair their barns. The exceptionally important service of the Mount Holly Flash is provided by the time and resources of one community member – Randy Bixby. (Attendees regarded the Flash as superior to the Front Porch Forum used in other communities.) The Garden Club and Sno-Drifters (which will be considered under Recreation) exist only through the volunteer work of their members – the Garden Club has maintained the beach area around Star Lake. . The Community Guild has existed for 96 years; its members make and sell crafts at three public sales events each year and distribute money to persons and organizations when they learn of a need. The OddFellows (including the Rebekers) raise funds through dinners and use the funds for needy persons in town. The Oddfellows has a complicated relationship with its national organization (the International Order of Odd Fellows) and basically cannot qualify for grants. Space and Equipment: The Library is adding books all the time and will be pressed for space at some point – more so if the town population grows. The Community Association, which completely renovated the ground floor of the Community Building as a Community Room, has an ongoing problem with its water supply: greywater for septic purposes comes from the Mechanicsville Aqueduct (line 3); the line freezes each winter. Bottled water is used for drinking. As the Community Building has no land, negotiations with neighbors for use of a well are ongoing. Mr. Bove suggested funding a study of future water supply demands. While four organizations (Museum, Library, Oddfellows, and Community Association) need buildings to conduct their activities, the rest do not. The Barn Preservation Association suggested that a common physical center could provide a space for storage of files, photographs, publications, and other documents; for shared use of office equipment, and for space for small meetings. Modelled after a business incubator, it could provide volunteer professional services (legal, accounting, banking, grant writing, etc.) and a site for volunteer recruitment that would reduce cost and duplication of effort by small organizations Volunteers: Most organizations who spoke to this subject agreed that the number of volunteers was decreasing; that most are older and when they die, it is not clear if they will be replaced. The Oddfellows reported that its declining membership was similar to the American Legion and the Masons. The Community Association reported a lesser problem, probably as its volunteer efforts were one-time affairs not requiring the longer commitment need by other organizations. Many volunteers are drawn from retirees, but some of those begin to feel burned out. Some found that retirement made greater demands on their time. All agreed that people have less time these days with both parents working – there are fewer volunteers at the Mount Holly School and some parents – when their children are called on to perform community service - do not seem to understand what “ community service” means. The Library is seeking to solve some of the problem by hiring and paying a part-time Librarian who will be able to replace some of the volunteer hours of the current librarian. It is clear that the Library could provide more service to the community with more people – the summer reading program serving 25 children in 6 sessions run by two volunteer teachers could serve the many children who can’t be enrolled. Needs: Organizations The Chit Chat needs a more up-to-date computer and printer. Currently, the editor, with more time could do more for the publication; she wonders who will fill the position after she retires. The Museum, having completed the improvement of its physical structure and getting an historical marker on Route 103, seeks to add to its collection of the state-designated land-mammal fossil by convincing Harvard to part with other fossilized remains to add to the tusk on display in the Museum. The Museum would like to keep the description of it in the current town plan with a suggested additional statement (given to the Advisory Council). Peter Smith - representing the Museum – said that his belief was that the intent of the current revision of the Town Plan was to shorten it. He saw a danger that a shortened and less accurate description would be unhelpful to future planners and citizens. Harold Chadburn, for the Oddfellows, said that the building needed a motion light on a pole outside the building and attention to the run-off in the ditch next to the building. Minga Dana will convey the information on the ditch (apparently related to the recent dam reconstruction) to the Mount Holly Conservation Trust. Needs: Community There are general community needs in Mount Holly: day care, affordable housing, and services that would help keep older people in the community, such as assisted living services in one’s own home. If these needs were met, the community would have more people with more time to volunteer. Town Website: On a number of occasions the matter of an official Town Website was raised. The history was recalled: The website was made official about 2005 and was maintained by a volunteer who added and deleted items as requested. Some parts of town government had well designed pages but often did not keep them current. However, content regularly added, such as the Planning Commission minutes and Chit Chat issues, eventually formed searchable archives. When the volunteer left, Kevin Neubert at the Store suggested a website that he and his son would maintain. A part of the website would be commercial for town businesses to use, and a part would be for municipal and public service organizations that would be taught how to maintain their own pages. The plan ran into problems and was only partially implemented. Then changes to the Open Meeting Law required that minutes of all municipal organizations, committees and subcommittees be posted on the town’s official website within 5 days of a meeting, or be penalized. The Select Board withdrew the website’s “official” designation - afraid that the volunteers who serve on all town bodies might not be able to meet the requirement. About 80% of towns in Rutland County have functioning official websites Ted Crawford (Select Board) wondered if a Chamber of Commerce type website as opposed to an official website would work. Diana Garrow of the Chit Chat noted that a lot of people, some from across the country, reach her through the current unofficial website. The Barn Preservation Association said that a town website would reduce the need to fund its own website; it would provide basic information about the organization; provide an archive for its past activities and publications and photos of the town historic barns; would increase sales, and entice tourists with actual and virtual barn tours. In summary: the Town of Mount Holly Website exists, contains some documents, e.g., the 2008 Town Plan and new and past years of Chit Chat issues, but is said to be complicated and the interface is hard to use and it is not maintained. Alyson Blodgett, Advisory Council, voiced the opinion that a town website is essential and allows residents to obtain and complete town forms, applications, etc. A town website should be front and center to any town. Changes to statutes and ordinances: This need was voiced only once when the Chair, Ed Bove, noted that work was being done to amend the Open Meeting Law re the 5-day requirement to post minutes or face a penalty – the major reason for the lack of an official Mount Holly Town Website. The Community Organizations part of the meeting ended at 7:15 ** Reporter’s Note: The Town’s support of the Chit Chat is an interesting example of cooperation between the Town and a community organization leading to improved service for the town’s citizens. In 2005, as the Planning Commission began the process of re-writing the Town Plan due in 2008, it used grant funds to assist the Mount Holly Chit Chat get town government news – including planning activity news - delivered to each residence in town. Members of the Select Board and Planning Commission worked with the editor to form a non-profit corporation and get 501(c)(3) federal tax-exempt status - which increased donations. The Board of Mount Holly Chit Chat, Inc. applied for town support to extend circulation to all residences and to all property owners – which also stimulated advertising. The increased income allowed the Board to approve a subsidy for the editor, who now has the time to increase the content and improve the quality of the paper. I have also added some clarifying comments in the body of my report above. Annette Lynch

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