MONTGOMERY — Voters defeated two articles of consideration Monday, striking a blow to attempts to change rules surrounding all terrain vehicles as well as implement a .06 cent tax on businesses toward sewer funding in that town.
A new tax
The first, directed at Article 6 — which received 175 “yes” votes and 190 “no” votes on Town Meeting Day — sought to approve a tax no greater than 6 cents per $100 on assessed property value, to be put in a sewer reserve fund.
Of the 486 voters that turned out Monday, 234 voted in favor and 247 opposed. There were 5 blank ballots cast.
That fund would have allowed the town to pay back debt obligations related to Montgomery’s planned $11.8 million wastewater system.
A wastewater system has long been planned in the town. Currently, 92% of existing systems in Montgomery Center and Village are on small lots without suitable replacement options. In 2020, the town qualified for a USDA Rural Development grant that would cover 75% of the project and a loan with an interest rate of 1%.
Robert Barnard is the former owner of the Snowshoe pub. He says he voted yes on both issues, that as a former business owner he sees enough people around town with failing septic systems. He doesn’t want to see current business owners spend the kind of money he did.
“I sold that just over three years ago and it cost me like $65,000 to put in that mound system over there and I know that’s still probably not correct. I don’t want to have to see them have to spend that kind of money,” says Barnard.
Barry Kade, a longtime member of the Montgomery Planning Commission also voted yes. He says now with all the available money is a great time to invest further in a wastewater system.
“The question is, why do people in the villages not benefiting directly from the sewer system, why should we contribute? My personal answer is because we use the town, we need the businesses that rely on the sewer system and without the two village centers we’d be living out in the boonies basically,” says Kade.
Sarita Khan owns the Vermont Salt Cave Spa, which opened five years ago. Khan says that the Main Street facility is on an aging septic system and lacks water. This has stifled plans to build a complete wellness center upstairs, which would include acupuncture and chiropractic services.
“I have to send people out in the dead of winter to the coach house in front to use the bathroom facilities because I could not get permission to put in a toilet here or a restroom because I’m on a septic,” says Khan.
She says that the issue has become one of individual versus business.
“It didn’t used to be like this. I don’t know if this is the result of a pandemic or what, but I mean good God. If they had done it 30 years ago we wouldn’t even be facing this issue,” she said.
Khan says she thinks that residents are also confused about the article.
“I think people feel that if property values go up because of increased value with the sewer system in there, that that corresponds to higher property taxes, which is not the case because you lower the rate. But I don’t think they see that,” she says.
ATVs on town roads
The other petition, for Article 9 — which originally failed with 175 “yes” and 196 “no” votes — received 223 votes in favor and 263 votes opposed.
The passage would have directed the selectboard to amend the town of Montgomery’s all terrain vehicle ordinance to authorize the use of ATVs on all town roads, and to the extent permitted by the state, along Vermont State Routes 118 and 242.
This petition was formulated by resident Brad Alexander. Alexander says that ATVs would allow businesses to thrive in the community.
“With the amount of traffic that’s coming through there now, in the summertime, it definitely slows down quite a bit and the ability of these side-by-sides and four-wheelers to make these businesses look like they do in the winter when these snowmobiles are in full swing, they’re gonna profit from that,” said Alexander.
Kade says not so fast.
“I voted no on ATVs because too many of the ATV users are disrespectful and go fast and loud and are annoying people. I mean, they’re recreational,” he says. “I would have no problem if someone is using one within a farm and would have to go ¼ of a mile within a farm but in terms of recreation it’s not an essential use of the roads.”
The request sought to open up Montgomery’s roads legally to the other end of Highway 58, bridging the gap between the town of Westfield and Richford, which have both already opened their roads, as well as opening Highways 118 and 242.
However, for permission to open 118 and 242, the town would have to make a request with the Vermont Agency of Transportation, which would work closely with the Vermont ATV Sportsman Association in deciding if a connection is both safe and necessary.
“That ain’t gonna happen,” says Kade.
AOT says that all requests are reviewed from a safety aspect and consider the posted speed of the highway, sight distance, as well as other factors. Permission is only granted if the connection can reasonably accommodate ATV’s safely and there are no other reasonable alternatives for a connection.
“I would imagine, if I was making a decision with those criteria the logical reason would be limited to those sections of town road that allow a person going from the vast trails to get to a store, I expect that’s what they would allow,” Kade says.
Alexander says that he thinks there is a stigma related to ATVs that makes the issue contentious.
“You’re always going to have a couple of bad apples that are going to try and spoil the bushel. But there are a lot of very conscious operators out there, they’re very experienced operators,” says Alexander.
There was no word Monday night on whether either party will bring the petition back again. Official return of votes report will be filed Tuesday and should be available on Montgomery’s website by Wednesday.