Berlin scores big for hosting new hospital
BERLIN — The town will receive much more than a payment in lieu of taxes in exchange for hosting the state’s new 25-bed psychiatric hospital.
On a night when Select Board members hired a new town treasurer and tabled action on a proposed parking ordinance, they were told that negotiations with the state went very, very well.
According to Town Administrator Jeff Schulz, the state has agreed to pay the town $25,000 a year to offset any costs associated with emergency services responding to the facility that is under construction off Fisher Road. That, he said, will be in addition to the more traditional PILOT installment of $58,000 a year that the town will receive, and it doesn’t include a promise to continue providing free emergency dispatch services for the Berlin Police Department for the next 20 years.
Schulz has estimated the current value of the dispatch services the town receives at roughly $60,000. Officials have long feared that free arrangement, which dates back to the days when Berlin had a one-member police department, could end as local call volumes have climbed.
Based on the signed agreement with the state, that won’t happen for another 20 years unless the psychiatric hospital is abandoned before then.
Given the state’s $12,000 opening offer, board members and at least one resident were pleased with the outcome of negotiations.
Resident Bob Wernecke commended the board for its efforts in securing $83,000 a year in revenue and free dispatch services for the foreseeable future and urged members to open similar negotiations with officials at Central Vermont Medical Center.
“I would encourage you to pursue a similar agreement with the hospital,” he said. “I really think it’s in (the town’s) and the hospital’s best interest, and I don’t know why they get off scot-free.”
Meanwhile, the board tabled action on an ordinance aimed at prohibiting parking on a town road that has become the primary access point for people interested in getting on Berlin Pond.
Some residents who live around the pond have urged the board to enact and enforce a parking ban on Mirror Lake Road, but Wernecke said he believed that would be an overreaction to a problem that appears to have abated.
In any event, Wernecke said, pursuing an ordinance that applies exclusively to Mirror Lake Road seemed “punitive” and, he believed, was little more than a thinly veiled attempt to circumvent a Vermont Supreme Court decision that struck down century-old recreational restrictions on the pond last year.
“Is this about banning fishing and boating on Berlin Pond, or is this about a parking problem?” Wernecke asked, noting local police have indicated cars parked on the side of Mirror Lake Road didn’t pose a safety problem.
What’s more, Wernecke said, finding cars parked in that same fashion elsewhere — out of the traveled way, but not completely off the road — isn’t hard in Berlin.
“If this was a yard sale you wouldn’t hear a peep,” he said. “It’s not a yard sale; it’s fishing on Berlin Pond.”
Board members agreed to wait until a committee that is being led by Wernecke concludes its evaluation of access alternatives at the pond. That committee is scheduled to meet this afternoon with officials from the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
After a brief executive session at the end of Monday night’s meeting, the board voted unanimously to hire Marcie Carver as town treasurer.
Carver, a self-employed accountant from Bradford, will be the permanent replacement for former Town Treasurer Patti Lewis, who resigned last year.
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