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Board OKs West Hartford Library

White River Junction — One new member was all it took to reverse a prior decision, as the Selectboard last night decided to borrow as much as $500,000 to pay for renovations and an addition to the West Hartford Library.

Before Town Meeting in March, the board narrowly voted to forgo borrowing the money via a bond issue passed by voters last year. Instead, it opted to pay for a large chunk of the project, which is budgeted at $750,000, by tapping undesignated fund dollars.

But Chuck Wooster, who was elected to the board last month and subsequently named chairman, brought the item up again last night.

“I wanted to have a chance to revisit this,” said Wooster, who served on the board from 2007 to 2010, noting that Vermont towns must apply for bonds by mid-May. “This is sort of our last opportunity to do so.”

The possibility of a changed vote, though, didn’t sit well with some. Selectman Alex DeFelice, the first to challenge Wooster last night, worried that, if the decision changed, the board would be reneging on a promise it made to its residents.

“I am very concerned that a member, who was not on the board when this all transpired, is trying to change the decision that the board made prior to us going out and asking the voters for two more bonds,” DeFelice said.

Last month, Hartford residents voted to both allow the town and school to jointly borrow $9 million to pay for widespread renovations to athletic fields and recreation centers, in addition to the town borrowing $4.9 million for renovations at the Municipal Building in White River Junction.

When the library issue was broached a few months ago, the board voted in favor of utilizing the undesignated fund, 4-3.

“That vote was taken prior to Town Meeting, and the voters of Hartford had an opportunity to speak against that proposal if they wanted to,” Selectman Ken Parker said, adding that the majority of those involved “felt that this was a settled situation.”

The library was heavily damaged during Tropical Storm Irene and since then has been closed. Preliminary plans call for shifting the library about 40 feet south, to be placed atop a new, waterproofed foundation, and attached to a 1,430-square-foot addition.

According to the plans, the historic building will still face Route 14, and the addition will stand further from the road and provide a back entrance to those parking in a new lot via a potential access road that will align with Quechee West Hartford Road.

The project, however, will encompass more than the renovated library and its addition, using the area as well as adjacent town-owned land for a “community performance area” and an open, grassy recreation space.

More parking will also be built further down Route 14 for the West Hartford Village Store, and a pull-over shoulder will be constructed for parking right outside the library.

Last night, Wooster’s presence flipped the narrow result. Selectboard Vice Chairman Simon Dennis, Selectman F.X. Flinn and Selectwoman Bethany Fleishman joined Wooster. DeFelice, Parker and Selectman Sam Romano voted against borrowing (“double nay,” DeFelice said).

“Basically, one person is subverting or altering the decision,” Parker said, responding at one point to Wooster.

But Flinn, a proponent of borrowing the money, noted that he had long lobbied to carry out the vote after the new Selectboard was in place.

“In fact, I pleaded with our chair last year not to have the vote basically last minute, at the final meeting that we had on our schedule, but instead to allow it to go over into the new board at the time when the decision really needed to be made,” he said.

Flinn added that bonding would work “to keep our powder dry” so undesignated fund dollars could be available for other capital projects. Dennis mentioned that bonding would only cost tax payers an extra $3 annually.

But reversing course, which opponents predicted would occur from the onset of the discussion, would not reflect favorably upon the board, those opponents said.

If the Selectboard did that, DeFelice said before last night’s vote, “the integrity of this board is gone.”

Jon Wolper can be reached at jwolper@vnews.com or 603-727-3248.

CORRECTION

The headline on this article has been amended to correct an earlier error. The following correction appeared in the Thursday, April 18 edition of the Valley News.

In choosing to borrow $500,000 for the West Hartford Library via bond issue Tuesday night, the Hartford Selectboard changed how it will pay for renovations and an addition to the West Hartford Library, which were already slated to occur. A headline in yesterday's paper was unclear on that point.