NL agrees to help Behold! group seek ‘Living Museum’ grant

NEW LEBANON—Behold! New Lebanon, which describes itself as a “living museum of contemporary rural American life,” has requested that the town partner with it on a grant. The board voted to approve this partnership at its monthly meeting February 10, but not all residents are happy about it.

The Rural Business Enterprise Grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) could be worth up to $99,000. However, Behold! New Lebanon needs a “municipal agent” to serve as the applicant, according to Town Attorney Andrew Howard.

Board member Bruce Baldwin noted that Behold! New Lebanon has worked with the Columbia Economic Development Corporation (CEDC) on previous projects, such as opening channels for donations. Mr. Baldwin asked why the organization couldn’t work with the CEDC again on this grant, as opposed to going through the town. Mr. Howard and Supervisor Michael Benson said that this was not possible.

Town Clerk Colleen Teal then read a resolution stating that the town would file the application for the grant and oversee its administration, provided that Behold! New Lebanon pays any fees associated with accounting, administration or auditing connected with the grant. The board passed the resolution unanimously, although Mr. Baldwin only voted yes after a long pause and the qualification that he was “a little nervous about this.” Board member Matt Larabee was not present for the vote.

When asked afterwards why the process made him nervous, Mr. Baldwin said that he was only asking questions, not providing answers—but he noted that administrative costs for implementing grants can be very high.

During the public comment segment at the end of the meeting, resident J.J. Johnson-Smith read a letter, which she provided to the board, expressing the displeasure that she and some other residents feel about parts of the Behold! New Lebanon project. Ms. Johnson-Smith said that her concerns focused on “the manner in which [the project] was implemented. She said residents had not been “adequately informed” about the project, and that increased “tourism is not something that the majority of residents desire in New Lebanon, rather it is the dream of the few, including several, non-resident business owners and a good number of recent transplants from the city.”

Ms. Johnson-Smith said that the project is “wholesome” and “not objectionable,” but that she has concerns about the “Museum designation, the government grants, the traffic, and most of all, the failure of Behold organizers to respect the wishes and opinions of the people.” The letter closes with a request for a Public Information Meeting with Ruth Abram, the founder of Behold! New Lebanon, present.

In other news this week:

  • The board set a date for a public hearing on its agreement with cable television provider Comcast/Charter. The public hearing will take place on March 10 at 6:45 p.m. before the next board meeting. Board member Chuck Geraldi requested that representatives from the cable company be present to hear grievances from residents. Mr. Benson and Mr. Howard said that they thought the cable company would be willing to send a representative.

The town would like to sign a five-year contract extension, as opposed to a ten-year deal. And Mr. Howard noted that the agreement is non-exclusive, which means the town could switch cable service, should another provider offer better service

  • Mr. Benson requested that people submit nomination forms for Columbia County Senior Citizen of the year. The deadline was January 30, but Mr. Benson said that he will ask for an extension
  • The board voted to appoint Chris Steadman to the Planning Board, with three ayes and one abstention
  • Ryan Biggs of Clark Davis Engineering & Surveying was named town engineer
  • Mr. Benson again brought up the possibility to testing the Highway Department’s gravel and sand to make sure that it meets the town’s specification, a measure that Highway Superintendent Jeffrey Winestock strongly opposed. Mr. Winestock also brought up his ongoing requests for new equipment—including a backhoe and a small truck. He said that the Highway Department’s “trucks are being beat to death” by the severe winter weather. Mr. Winestock also noted the difficulty he has had getting Morton Salt to fulfill its contracts for providing road salt, and asked that the board put pressure on the company. “It’s the safety of the people,” said Mr. Winestock
  • The board discussed whether to give a town employee a vacation day back after she was forced to take one due to winter weather warnings. The discussion led to Mr. Geraldi pointing out that the board has not yet finished revising the town’s new human resources manual, which would spell out the procedures in cases such as this one.

 

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