What’s new on the plateau

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Patrick Taylor – Highlands Mayor

The May Highlands Town Board meeting is tonight [Thursday] at 7 p.m., at the Highlands Conference Center next to the ball field. While the meeting agenda may not be long, several important items are listed for the board to cover.  

The first item will be a discussion of the speed limit on Hickory Hill Road.  A number of residents want to see the speed limit reduced. In addition,  I would like the board to review speed limits in other neighborhoods and in certain business areas and ask questions such as, what are safe speeds in certain areas and how speed limits can be enforced?  Enforcement on short and narrow neighborhood streets is not that simple.

In planning matters, there will be a request for a public hearing for amendments to the Unified Development Ordinance.  One of these changes deals with construction and reconstruction of fences, while another relates to accessory uses and structures. Other areas to be reviewed concern dimensional and density standards in residential and nonresidential developments. Town Manager Josh Ward will present a detailed description.  No action will be taken until after the public hearing at the June board meeting.

Another important agenda item will be the official awarding of the contract to build the aerial fiber portion of the broadband network.  JBL Communications is the contractor and should start the construction in the coming weeks. Wide Open Networks will oversee the building of the network.

The last item on the agenda will be the presentation of the proposed town budget for fiscal year 2018/2019.  For several months town staff and the board have been developing the new budget that will go into effect on July 1.  The town manager will present the proposed budget which by state law is balanced. A budget public hearing will likely be held at the June Town Board meeting.

This proposed budget has a significant amount of infrastructure spending.  The $4.6 million loan to build the fiber network has been entered twice in the budget. Our accountants and auditors require this procedure that appears to balloon the budget by over $9 million. This loan will be repaid from funds generated from the fiber network operation.  Also, the budget includes replacement of the Split Rail waterline for $876,000 and four road paving projects totaling $620,000.

While electric utility rates will not increase this year, the basic usage rates for water and sewer will increase for the first time in a number of years by a couple of dollars.  The town is facing several water system improvements and incurred a shortfall this year.  Many towns have kept water and sewer rates down while ignoring essential maintenance and upgrades. That strategy is a formula for  a water system requiring major funding just to bring it up to minimum standards. We are not going to make that mistake.

The budget also contains a major increase for the fire tax.  As I have stated previously, we have to build a new fire station and move toward more full time staffing.  On Tuesday, May 21, we will have an open forum for residents to learn about and ask questions about the new fire department plans.  The meeting will be at the Highlands Recreation Department from 6 to 7 p.m.   

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