Doug Wilberding and John Langhus are running for the two-year seat on the Selectboard. Below are Doug's responses to all five questions in the Norwich Observer Questionnaire. John's responses are here. The video of the Q & A from the Candidates Forum is available for viewing at this link.
Communications. Are you satisfied with how Town government communicates with Norwich residents? Why or why not? By how much would you be willing to INCREASE the Town Budget in order to to improve communications?
I believe the Town can and must improve its communication with residents. Furthermore, effective communication goes far beyond the “feel good” paid-PR pieces created by Story Kitchen and should include updates about key issues that directly impact Town residents.
For example, Norwich can easily implement a Town wide text messaging service for those who opt in. The cost via Club Texting ($29/month) is a fraction (5%) of the Story Kitchen cost ($495/month) and these messages can be limited to emergencies or meeting reminders.
Also, it’s very easy to have a bulletin board placed at the Recycling Center which highlights the upcoming meetings and the minutes (cost = $0).
Finally, the “minutes” from Selectboard and Committee meetings should be actual “minutes” which include details about decisions made, by whom, participants, and agenda items discussed.
Additionally, the Town can increase its ListServ postings (cost = $0).
Development. The Planning Commission is working on a new Town Plan, which may be sent to the Selectboard for public hearings and approval within the next 12 months. It seems inevitable that the topic will arise regarding the creation of a mixed use zoning district in the Route 5 South area. What are your views regarding the possible establishment of a new mixed use zoning district in the Route 5 South area?
The Norwich Planning Commission should not be working on an entirely new Town Plan. They should be revising the existing Town Plan and focus on the sections that need re-working.
I met one-on-one with Peter Gregory, TRORC Executive Director, on January 31 to learn, from the source, what happened with Norwich’s Town Plan. According to Peter, three (3) sections failed to meet approval:
1) Clearly defined area(s) for commercial development (primarily multi-family housing) were not stated in the Town Plan;
2) The Village of Norwich lost its designation impacting its ability to apply for Historic Tax Credits for work on its buildings; and
3) The section on energy lacked sufficient detail.
I am against large-scale development in Norwich and especially on the Route 5 South parcel. I support prudent, conservative development that can be absorbed by the Town and that is sensitive to Act 250. This can easily be highlighted in a revised Town Plan. The previous Town Plan failed because there was NO specific area or detailed concept for commercial development. But, the Town Plan could get approved with a small scale development area. At a time when so many people shop online and local retailers are closing, adding significant retail space in a mixed use development project would be a mistake for Norwich.
Affordable Housing. Nearly everybody is in favor of more affordable housing in Norwich. What do you think Norwich’s local government should be doing to promote or create affordable housing in Norwich?
First, the Town needs to be clear in its messaging regarding “affordable housing”. Most residents don’t know what “affordable housing”, how it’s calculated, or the Towns intention regarding affordable housing. Given my work experience in providing affordable housing on a national level, I’ve highlighted more about my position on this (including details on the affordability calculation) on my website: www.doug4norwichsb.com.
Secondly, the Town should donate unused land to aid in the affordable housing initiative. This land isn’t currently earning real estate tax dollars (which would otherwise count towards overall revenue). Contributing the land to an affordable housing initiative would go a long way to developing homes that are in fact “affordable”. The land should be zoned, permitted and sub-divided by the Town as needed to achieve this goal. And this will incorporate the new housing throughout the Town, much like the existing balance of homes today.
Lastly, in my meeting with TRORC, I learned that the issue with approving the Town Plan appeared to be the lack of a “multi-family” zoned area—NOT a lack of affordable housing. This does not necessarily mean that “multi-family” (e.g. apartments or condos) could not be considered “affordable.” Therefore, multi-family housing that is also affordable would satisfy the TRORC’s requirement that Norwich address in its Town Plan.
Goals. What are the several issues that you think the Town or Selectboard should or must address in the next 12 to 18 months? Why? Do you have any specifics on how to address?
The primary focus of the Selectboard should be securing TRORC approval on the Town Plan. There should be a clear message as to how to accomplish this. It is concerning that some Town employees are advocating for a completing rewrite from scratch when the TRORC has indicated that only certain sections require work or revision.
Other issues include:
- Conflict of Interest: Selectboard and Committee Members should be prohibited from earning money or winning business contracts while they hold voluntary, non-remunerative roles with the Town. This is already a State of Vermont statute. Norwich needs to adopt one with real teeth that is countersigned by all parties.
- FEMA funding: Obtain the FEMA funding for which Norwich has applied for the July 2017 storm in order to help the FYE 2020 budget.
- Better fiscal management: And avoid costly mistakes such as the 2017 trench fine and planting trees along the highway without State of Vermont approval.
- Energy & environment: Support the Norwich school children who circulated a petition for a plastic bag tax. Ask Norwich retailers to implement the $0.05-0.10/bag tax and have the funds go to the Town. The Recycling Center should install solar. Norwich should pass an ordinance requiring unused vehicles to be removed from people’s land, thus avoiding the leeching of chemicals into the soil and waterways.
- Public Safety: Pass a town ordinance banning the firing of firearms on town-owned land (i.e., Gile Mountain, among others) and complete the sidewalk extension in front of Marion Cross Elementary School.
Budget. The Selectboard sent to the voters a FYE 2020 Town budget of $4,271,793. Although the amount of the budget declined by about 5%, the property tax rate [without the separate monetary Articles for various nonprofit organizations] is projected to increase by 1.51%. For John and Linda: How did you vote on that budget and why? For Doug and Roger: How would you have voted on that budget and why?
I would have voted for more reductions in expenses, controlling taxes, and earning more interest off the Town’s reserves.
Last year, the Town approved the purchase of a new truck for one of its departments. In order to be fiscally prudent and environmentally conscious, could we not have hybrid or electric Town vehicles? This would reduce fossil fuel usage and save on gas expenses.
Other expenses should be reviewed each year to ensure that the Town is spending wisely and in the most cost-effective way. I’d like to see the Finance Committee work more closely with the Town and utilize the expertise of these Committee members who have professional experience in finance.
Voting for Town Officers and for all articles on the Warning will be by Australian ballot. The polls will be open Tuesday, March 5, 2019 from 7:00 am to 7:00 pm.
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