Selectboard approves August ballot for financing $3 million garage

Since almost immediately after the private garage where road commissioner Junior Lewis housed his road clearing trucks and equipment burned just before Christmas, the Charlotte Selectboard has been working to get a new — town-owned this time — garage built.

That effort took a big step forward on Monday night, June 20, when the board voted unanimously to approve voting for a 9,000 square foot garage to be on the Aug. 9 ballot. If the town voters approve, it should be full-steam ahead on building a new garage.

Except for winter.

At the outset the selectboard members were cautiously optimistic that the garage could be built before the weather turned too cold for construction. Now, it looks likely that won’t happen.

Board member Frank Tenney said even if the town found a builder who could build the garage before winter, there is almost no chance construction materials could be found that soon.

If approved, the proposed garage will be built on the west side of Route 7, south of Charlotte Crossings, on town-owned property where the old flea market used to be.

Voters will be asked to approve a new garage that will cost about $3 million, but the cost to property owners will only be $1.5 million.

The other $1.5 million of the construction cost will come from $1 million in town American Rescue Plan Act or ARPA funds plus $500,000 from highway reserve funds road commissioner Junior Lewis has saved from his annual budget over the years.

“We are building a $3 million project, but we’re asking for just $1.5 million,” selectboard chair Jim Faulkner said. “I want to make sure that’s clear to everybody.”

In spite of the misfortune of the fire the town has the fortunate coincidence of having available COVID-relief money and a sizeable highway reserve fund. Faulkner said he was sure the town could build the garage for $3 million but was pretty certain it couldn’t be built for less.

The design is the same basic footprint as the garages in Hinesburg and Ferrisburgh, he said.

The cost was a shock to most when the estimate came in for Charlotte’s garage. Those two towns’ garages cost much less but were built before the pandemic pushed construction costs beyond exorbitant.

Town administrator Dean Bloch said a few months ago, when interest rates were 3 percent, the $1.5 million would have raised property taxes on a $500,000 home by about $85 the first year. Over the 20 years of the financing, the increase would have gone down to about $45, but he didn’t have the amount of taxes at today’s rates for a bond or loan.

Right now, the interest rates are 5.34 percent, board member Louise McCarren said.

It’s “an odd market” Faulkner said, so the board doesn’t know if the rate will be higher or lower when the town is ready to secure the financing.

All that was being approved at this selectboard meeting was the amount residents will vote on in August, Tenney stressed. The garage’s design details, like whether it will have a flat or peaked roof, will be decided later.

In a social media post, town clerk Mary Mead pointed out that the Aug. 9 vote will be essentially two elections — a primary election and the vote on financing the garage construction, so voters who request absentee ballots will receive two envelopes mailed separately. The absentee ballots should be available this week and can be returned by mail, in person or dropped in a box at the door to the town hall.

Anyone with questions was encouraged to call the clerk’s office at 802-425-3071 ext. 201.