CALAIS — The Select Board deferred discussion of filling a pair of vacancies on a seriously shorthanded road crew during its Monday virtual meeting.
On a night when the board approved the Town Meeting Day warning and scheduled a Jan. 25 public hearing to gauge community interest in seeking a state grant to help finance the redevelopment of the former East Calais General Store, members agreed to wait a week to discuss the town’s shrinking road crew.
Less than a month after granting a leave of absence to one of the crew’s four workers, board members received the pending resignation of another, and told Road Commissioner Alfred Larrabee they’d like to discuss “next steps” with respect to the two vacancies next week.
Larrabee, who has publicly complained he hasn’t been reappointed as road commissioner — a position he has held for more than two decades in Calais — said the clock is ticking.
“I’m a little bit desperate for help,” he said.
Since board members openly wondered in late November what would happen if the road crew was sidelined as a consequence of COVID-19, they have granted a leave of absence to one member and recently received the resignation of another, who is leaving to take a job in another department.
That means Larrabee, who is still stewing over an annual appointment he claims is more than six months overdue, will soon be down to one full-time employee and a part-timer willing to fill in in a pinch, but not interested in full-time work.
Though Mother Nature has been cooperative so far, Larrabee said he had contacted a local resident who is interested in filling the temporary full-time vacancy created by the leave of absence approved by the board last month. First, he said, there is a drug test to pass and a commercial driver’s license to obtain. A CDL test is scheduled for early next month and Larrabee said he was inclined to allow one of the town trucks to be used for the test to facilitate the mid-winter hire.
Though board members didn’t tell Larrabee to pump the brakes, they suggested the vacancies would be discussed when they meet next Monday.
Larrabee said the board might want to consider expanding the agenda for that meeting, and was told by Chairwoman Denise Wheeler to email her his suggestions.
The exchange followed a discussion during which Larrabee reiterated his belief the town should consider replacing the 2009 truck that was just inspected, but flagged for a number of issues that could require attention during the coming year. Larrabee pegged the trade-in value of the truck in its current condition at about $15,000 and said the board should be ready to act quickly if he is able to locate a newer used replacement.
Meanwhile, board members who have opted to cancel Calais’ traditional town meeting because of COVID-19 concerns this year approved the warning for the March 2 elections that will be conducted by Australian ballot. That includes consideration of the board’s $1.71 million budget request, which reflects a spending reduction of roughly $14,500 and would require raising $1.4 million in property taxes. It includes separately warned requests for $49,400 to finance the upkeep of town cemeteries, $27,132 for Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier and an all-or-nothing vote on $30,100 in smaller funding requests. Those requests range from a low of $100 for Green Up Vermont to a high of $4,900 for the Montpelier Senior Activity Center.
Also, the board scheduled a Jan. 25 public hearing to solicit feedback on its plan to apply for up to $400,000 from the Vermont Community Development Program to aid the East Calais Community Trust in its effort to redevelop the East Calais General Store.
The group, of which Wheeler is a member, purchased the property last June and wants to renovate the building. That work involves returning the first-floor to its long-time use as a general store and renovating three apartments behind and above the store for use as affordable housing. Plans call for the creation of a one-, two- and three-bedroom apartment.
Wheeler did not participate in the board’s discussion and decisions with respect to the grant application on Monday.
The virtual hearing is set for 6:15 p.m. Jan. 25. Those interested in attending the Zoom session can find login information at calaisvermont.org