Hinesburg Selectboard reaches plan for Geprags money

The Bissonette Recreation Project continues across the street from Geprags Park. Photo by Lauren Milideo

April 17’s Hinesburg Selectboard meeting included a discussion and decision regarding what to do with the funds the town anticipates receiving from Vermont Gas Systems, Inc. for an easement for drilling that took place in Hinesburg’s Geprags Park. The Feb. 20 and March 20 Selectboard meetings both hosted passionate board and public discussion of how the VGS money ought to be used, including calls for completion of the Bissonette Recreation project and suggestions that the funds go to other town needs.

The April 17 discussion began with Selectboard Chair Phil Pouech noting that the issue of how to spend the Geprags funds, totaling $250,000, has been raised and discussed prominently at several public meetings, including Town Meeting. Board member Andrea Morgante pointed out that the town does not yet have the money to spend; it sits in an escrow account pending the outcome of a Vermont Supreme Court case that concerned Hinesburg citizens have against VGS. Morgante added her hope that the money could go, appropriately, to the Bissonette recreation fields but also to long-term land stewardship in town. Fellow member Aaron Kimball echoed his support of the so-called “two buckets”: “I, too, am looking at the two-bucket option: the future, and the now.”

Board member Tom Ayer said that completion of the recreation fields needs to happen now. “We owe it to our kids. The situation is just getting worse every year,” Ayer said. Finally, board member Merrily Lovell weighed in, noting that she was moved by both perspectives: wanting to spend the money on land stewardship, while also recognizing the importance of the recreation fields. She, too, settled on the “two buckets.”

Ayer moved for the Selectboard to assign the $250,000 to recreational and educational opportunities in Hinesburg, with $60,000 in a Selectboard-supervised fund to be distributed in ways to be determined later, and $190,000 going to “completion of the critical elements of the Bissonette Field Project.” This would include surfaces for multipurpose field and little league fields, fencing, landscaping, and the parking area.

Morgante suggested that, instead, $150,000 be spent on completing three fields, excluding fencing and landscaping for the fields, with the remaining $100,000 going into an “environmental stewardship fund for which the interest would be used.” This amendment was seconded.

Ayer responded with concern that landscaping is essential before the fields can be used. Pouech noted that waiting further on planting would mean yet another year before the fields would be usable. Morgante noted that fencing has yet to be bid out, so its pricing was not yet known. Ayer then offered a compromise: to keep the $190,000 for the fields, but yield any remaining funds to the investment bucket. Kimball pointed out, to applause from the audience, that the entire $190,000 might well be needed to meet any additional costs of the recreation fields. Lovell then floated the suggestion that “it would be good to just split it half and half,” also to applause.

Comments from the audience varied, from requests for clarification of Morgante’s amendment to suggestions that more dialogue was needed. Shelburne Little League President Tim Pudvar noted that 40% of the participants in his program are from Hinesburg, yet no games are scheduled to be played in town. He added that dugouts are a safety measure, and that Shelburne Little League players would not be playing in Hinesburg without them. If they were put off until the next budget, no games could be played in Hinesburg until 2019 at the earliest, he said.

HCS School Board Vice Chair Bill Baker added that with the millions that the Town spends on other things, arguing over $40,000 to complete the fields was “an embarrassment.”

Following the public comment section, the board voted on Morgante’s proposed amendment to change the recreational fields’ portion to $150,000 and change the wording to include the$100,000 fund to be invested, with interest applied to environmental stewardship. Morgante added that perhaps the trustees of this fund ought not to be the Selectboard, but a different publicly elected group. This vote passed with Morgante and Lovell voting yes, Ayer and Kimball voting no, and Pouech casting the tie-breaking yes vote.

At Ayer’s objection to this, Morgante suggested returning to the original $190,000/$60,000 split, with the following wording added to ensure the $60,000 fund’s use for environmental stewardship: “the remaining $60,000 will be put into an investment account with the interest to be used for environmental stewardship, projects, and programs of public lands with priority given to Geprags Park, with the funds to be overseen by elected trustees.”

Following an affirmative vote on the motion to reconsider Morgante’s earlier amendment and return to the original amendment, the board voted four-to-one, with Lovell opposed, to retain the $190,000-$60,000 split in conjunction with establishing an investment fund.

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