Cool reception to heating system

WILTON – Town Meeting voters last Thursday decided to hire a town administrator, but it will be another year before Town Hall has a new heating system – wood pellets or otherwise.

The budget was amended upward twice for a final total of $4,890,962. Putting 50 percent of land use change tax money into a conservation land acquisition fund passed on a close voice vote, but everything else passed easily. About 150 people attended the four-hour meeting at Florence Rideout Elementary School.

To start the meeting, about an hour was spent debating the pros and cons of hiring a town administrator. A committee spent several months researching the position and recommended it. The Budget Committee didn’t agree, and the Board of Selectmen was split, with Bill Condra voting against. Committee members pointed out the need for a professional in the town office. No matter how good and dedicated volunteers are – and they were called excellent – they have other duties. Someone has to be in charge of the day-to-day operations, and have time to look into grants and pursue economic development, supporters said.

Harry Dailey said having an administrator would protect the town from possible legal issues. Selectman Kermit Williams said someone has to keep up with the changing laws. He noted the town’s current problems with a cemetery trust fund, which might have been avoided.

Budget Committee Chairman Cary Hughes stressed improved efficiency and today’s "regulated legal world." "There were times when things were not handled properly," Hughes said. The position would fit into the newly adopted salary guide at a level 13, and $50,000 was approved for the first half year. The final vote was 90 yes, 53 no.

The wood pellet system, which was promoted by the town’s Energy Committee, failed for several reasons, in spite of the present system being called "creaky," "archaic" and "inefficient" by town officials. Voters cited a lack of a "stamped engineering plan" and pointed out renovations to be made to the former police station, saying it should be one project. Several questioned the safety of the system amd the need for electrical backup, and noted the rise in the cost of pellets, plus maintenance costs. Deputy Fire Chief Jim Cutler said his department hadn’t yet seen a plan, and that it had to approve the system. Dailey said the school renovations committee had looked into several heating systems, and "a pellet system was the lowest option."

The article failed on a close voice vote. In discussing the town’s operating budget, the Wilton Main Street Association asked that $2,500 be added. Allison Meltzer noted he services of the association are needed more than ever in the town’s effort to attract people to Main Street, and that events cost money. It was approved with little dissent.

Ron Brown, chairman of the library trustees, asked that $5,000 of the $10,000 cut by the Budget Committee be restored in order to finish the landscaping and sidewalk restorations begun last year.

Again, there was little dissent. There was little discussion of needed renovations to the west end of Town Hall, the former police station and part of an ongoing upgrade of the building. Approved was $27,000 for design, bid documents and construction. The area was described as "kind of a mess" and "an uncomfortable place to work" without adequate heat or air conditioning. The renovations would provide needed office space for town boards and perhaps the new administrator. In other business, voters approved funding a town revaluation for $30,000, the creation of a new Cemetery Maintenance Trust Fund, a revolving fund for the recycling center, the purchase of a new police vehicle and a new backhoe, repair of King Brook Road Bridge, property tax exemptions for solar heating systems and contributions to several capital reserve funds. The next fire truck will replace one built in 1953.

There were two petition articles. One asked that Congress and the new president fight "big money politics and restore government of, by and for the people." The other asked for continued opposition to the proposed natural gas pipeline. Both passed with little comment. Dailey and Hughes were named joint Citizens of the Year.