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Vermonters vote on infrastructure, housing projects ahead of federal funding deadline

A group stands outside of a white building, talking. One  man holds a large document.
Howard Weiss-Tisman
Vermont Public
Supporters of an $8 million wastewater project talk with a voter outside Londonderry town meeting Tuesday. Town meeting voters approved about $900,000 in local funds to pay the remaining amount not covered by the federal ARPA grant.

There were a lot of discussions around the state about development and housing during Town Meeting Day.

Towns that received money through the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA, have to decide how to spend it before the end of this year. So there were a lot of votes held across the state on pending projects this Town Meeting Day.

All Things Considered Host Mary Engisch discussed some of these votes with Vermont Public's Howard Weiss-Tisman.

This interview was produced for the ear. We highly recommend listening to the audio. We’ve also provided a transcript, which has been edited for length and clarity.

Mary Engisch: Howard, I understand that you spent Town Meeting Day in Londonderry in Windham County. First off, tell us what you were following there. And how did things go?

Howard Weiss-Tisman: So Londonderry had a bond vote on their Town Meeting Day warning. They have actually two wastewater systems they want to build in the south and the north ends of town. It's an almost $8 million project that supporters say will encourage development in the two villages.

“We can't improve our village centers without them having what they need to continue, including wastewater. It, it affects everything."
Sharon Crossman, Londonderry resident.

I saw Sharon Crossman, she was standing out in front of town hall, talking to the people about the project. And this is what she told me why she supported it:

Sharon Crossman: We can't improve our village centers without them having what they need to continue, including wastewater. It, it affects everything. It affects private property owners, it affects business owners, it affects people who live near the rivers that are polluted. It's a big, a big nut, but it's the critical one.”

Howard Weiss-Tisman: The town got most of the money from the state's ARPA fund. ARPA, as we said, is American Rescue Plan Act — that’s some of the COVID relief money that the federal government gave out a few years ago, and Londonderry got the largest state ARPA grant for its system.

It's about $7.9 million for their wastewater system, but the town needs about $900,000. And that's what they were asking voters for on Town Meeting Day. And it was an article vote. We got that in late Tuesday night, we found out the results, and Londonderry approved it. So the project is going to move ahead. And it's really big deal for that town, which was hit hard by the flooding last year. So the folks there, you know, it is something to look forward to, something they feel good about.

More from Vermont Public: PHOTOS: Views from Town Meeting Day 2024

Mary Engisch: And a lot of towns have to decide before the end of this year what they're going to do with that ARPA money. Did that deadline drive any other Town Meeting Day votes this week?

Howard Weiss-Tisman: Yeah, there were a lot of debates going on around the state about it. Highgate is using ARPA money for a wastewater project too, but because the federal money didn't cover all the work there, the town needed to ask for a bond at town meeting. And Highgate voters approved $100,000 on Tuesday by a two-to-one margin for their new wastewater system.

In Bennington, the town's using its ARPA money to build a new senior center. And as part of that deal, they're selling the old senior center. So the town had to ask the voters for approval to do that. And Bennington also OK'd the sale of the old senior center, so that project's moving ahead.

And in Middlebury, they're also using ARPA money for a wastewater project. And even though the town wasn't asking for more money, they still needed a vote to get the project moving. The town had to approve the bond that they're going to use for the project. And Middlebury voters supported the plan too, at town meeting.

A man stands and gestures with a hand. People sitting in chairs face a small stage with a podium and folding table. A man stands at the podium and a group of people sit at the table.
Olivia Conti
Community News Service
Voters in Highgate approved a wastewater project to be funded, in part, by ARPA, as well as a 30-unit senior housing development.

Mary Engisch: Some big housing projects were also on town meeting warnings. Were any of those driven by ARPA money?

Howard Weiss-Tisman: There was some ARPA money tied up in that. That wastewater system we talked about in Highgate is an ARPA project, and the big reason why the town is taking that on is because they have this big plan for a 30-unit senior housing development right downtown. It's a really big project. Folks there are really excited about both the wastewater and the housing.

Vermont Public had a student reporter there, Sadie Ensana, and she caught up with Highgate Town Administrator Sharon Bosquet at town meeting Tuesday. And here's what she said about the projects:

Sharon Bosquet: The wastewater system actually helps us protect our neighbors. Failed systems are in Highgate because of the ages of the different residences. It also allows us to do more development on this particular property and allows us to bring in tax income to take some of the tax burden off our taxpayers.”

Howard Weiss-Tisman: So the Highgate voters approved that senior development project. So that's going to move on.

And in St. Albans City, there was also a really big housing project on the town meeting warning. Voters there approved an $11.4 million bond. And a big chunk of that is going towards what they're calling workforce housing. That's right downtown.

And just lastly, the town of Richmond also had some housing projects they talked about a town meeting. But in Richmond, it was an advisory vote. There's a piece of land there that the town is using for recreation, and some housing advocates were talking about whether it might be a place for some housing. But at town meeting, the town actually said, “No,” they didn't want to do that they wanted to keep that land for recreation, so that development is not going to move ahead.

Mary Engisch: So except for that Richmond vote, it sounds like there was a lot of support for spending big money on infrastructure and housing. What were some of the takeaways there for you, Howard, at Town Meeting Day?

Howard Weiss-Tisman: So the first thing is that this ARPA money — this federal money that came out during COVID, right at the end of COVID — it's really spurred a lot of development around the state. It's important to point out that towns don't have to always seek approval at town meeting. Towns got their chunk of ARPA money, and they're putting it into various projects. But when you need to bond for more money, or when you need to seek approval for a land sale or something, that's where the town meeting votes get involved.

And I think it also says a lot about, you know, how communities feel about development within their towns. You know, there's been a lot of talk in Montpelier about Act 250. Lawmakers haven't been able to really make some of the big changes to Act 250 that some housing advocates are looking for. But when the votes come down to town meeting, when folks are looking at their own communities and thinking about, you know, the wastewater, the housing, they're pretty much on board for making these projects happen. I think a lot of folks know about the housing shortage and each community is doing what it can to try to address that.

Sadie Ensana of the Community News Service, a student-powered partnership between the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program and community newspapers across Vermont, contributed reporting.

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.


Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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