by Jeremy Hansen
Starting on Town Meeting Day, I conducted a survey of Berlin residents using Internet and paper surveys. I received 29 responses to a variety of questions, such as residents’ thoughts about the quality of life in Berlin (90 percent rated it as “good” or “excellent”), the town’s overall reputation (55 percent “good” or “excellent”), how well Berlin does snow removal (83 percent “good” or “excellent”). Without diving into every result, there were several common themes, some of which I was aware of, and others that were a little surprising. On an open-ended question asking about the drawbacks to living in Berlin, there were 13 responses that mentioned our lack of a central meeting place or town center. Here are unedited portions of some of these responses:
“We wish that there was some kind of town square or park: some kind of public gathering space.”
“…it would be nice to have a better ‘town center’ gathering spot.”
“Spread out with no central hub.”
Another resident answered on a later open-ended question that Berlin’s most important issue “is and will continue to be building community.” These responses were not surprising — I’ve known this was an issue for some time. Sixty-two percent of residents said that community recreation opportunities were either “important” or “very important” to them, and 66 percent of residents said that they would be “somewhat likely” or “very likely” to support a community meeting space, even if there was an associated cost.
Not long ago, I had an interesting meeting with members of the Capital City Grange, which, despite its name, is in Berlin on Route 12 in the shadow of the interstate. They’re a nonpartisan fraternal organization whose mission is to encourage people to work together to promote the economic and political development of the community and local agriculture. They shared with me details about the events they put on there, as well as their current year budget, which for several years has run a slight deficit and has required them to tap into reserve funds. Waiving the Grange’s property taxes, which total a little more than $7,000, would more than make up for their budget deficit and would keep them afloat long-term.
There’s precedent here. In Berlin, neither the hospital nor the Berlin Volunteer Fire Department pay property taxes. Over in Northfield, Norwich University (where I work) also does not. The Capital City Grange is the only Grange hall in Vermont that pays full property taxes.
The Grange is not asking for a handout — they’re hoping to fulfill their mission to the community in exchange for the tax waiver by offering the town and residents of Berlin free use of their newly-refurbished (and Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant) facilities twice a month when the hall is not otherwise booked. We would have to iron out the details about how these bookings would actually happen, but I’d love to see a regular Berlin-wide get-together, potluck or music event. Events currently hosted in the elementary school or at the town offices could easily happen at the Grange. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t magically create a town center, but it certainly provides as central of a meeting place as our geography allows. Please join me in supporting this effort!
Up next: “Property Taxes and Development in Berlin”
Jeremy Hansen is a member of the Berlin Selectboard