Council mulls old, new business  

At its regular meeting Aug. 8, the Washington Town Council approved the one item on its agenda under “new business” (a $14,200 wastewater system expense to replace the treatment plant’s six-year-old sand filter), skipped over the “old business” agenda section (because it was empty), and then got to the public comment section.

Which could have been called the “very old business” section.

With Mayor John Sullivan and council member Patrick O’Connell away, Vice Mayor Gary Schwartz opened the council’s public comment period to a series of questions and suggestions from the handful in attendance.

Kevin Adams, a former town resident who has a studio and gallery on Gay Street, asked whether the town had “an update on the new fire hydrant on Piedmont Avenue.”

“I think we decided there wasn’t going to be a new fire hydrant on Piedmont,” said council member Jerry Goebel.

“There were some questions on the cost,” added council member Gary Aichele, referring to the most recent estimate of $25,000 obtained by the town last year when nearby residents complained that the hydrant hadn’t worked for years. “Because we were borrowing money at that point to pay the town’s debts, borrowing money to put in a new fire hydrant was redundant. My view was that when the sale of Avon Hall happened, and we might be able to see less difficult times financially. we should go back and reconsider.”

“I think that was the point,” said Schwartz, “and I think we need to revisit it.” All three council members pointed out that the town was advised by the Washington Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department that there was sufficient access and water from a nearby working hydrant to pose no safety risk to residents near the non-working unit.

Both Nancy Buntin and Sharron Proper asked about sidewalk maintenance and storm drain maintenance, which prompted a long discussion of the town’s maintenance responsibilities — in short, that it is probably responsible for surface debris that blocks storm drains (or for whatever above-the-ground runoff impediments not taken care of by VDOT, the agency most present believed would clear any underground blockages).

Schwartz asked Town Clerk Laura Dodd to contact VDOT, and also said the town would consider asking its mowing contractor to keep an eye on storm drains.

“This question came up many years ago,” said Town Attorney John Bennett, speaking of sidewalks, which Proper said were in bad shape in several spots along Mount Salem Avenue near the Washington Schoolhouse. “And it remains a hugely unresolved issue.”

The issue being liability — which the town would take on, he noted, should it repair or replace sidewalks, which in most surrounding jurisdictions are the responsibility of property owners.

The discussed veered back to the planning commission’s hope, mentioned earlier in the session, to widely publicize its Sept. 26 meeting as an opportunity for town and county residents to weigh in on the town’s comprehensive plan, currently under review.

“This brings something to mind,” said Aichele, “and that is: To what extent, in the comprehensive plan going forward, are we going to be interested in such things as off-street parking, public restroom facilities, beautification, better sidewalks — there’s a whole cluster of pedestrian issues that we’ve talked about in recent years.”

Aichele said the “big issue for me is public restrooms. Shouldn’t there be some somewhere in this town?”

“Okay,” said Schwartz. “Then I take it we’ll see you at the comprehensive plan review on the 26th of September?”

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