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Town will no longer plow church parking lot

November 04, 2009
Worried about a lack of separation between church and state, selectmen decided last week to indefinitely table a Memorandum of Understanding that would have had the town plowing the church parking lot.

Last Wednesday night Town Administrator Scott Dunn suggested that the board table the Memorandum of Understanding he had written weeks ago. The MOU would have meant the town would continue to plow snow in the church facility parking lot, just as it did when the church was owned by the town. In return, the church would have allowed public access to their youth center and related services.

"It is apparent to me that this memorandum of understanding lacks support from the board," said Dunn, who write the MOU weeks ago.

The selectmen, who have discussed the matter several times, agreed with Dunn and said they were done with the proposal for the time being.

For years, the Department of Public Works has provided winter plowing services for the Community Church parking lot on Potter Hill Road, connected to the public library parking lot. It has been brought to the attention of residents and the selectmen at prior meetings by Budget Committee members that the church in fact is still receiving town services, although their facilities are no longer town owned.

Some residents and various board and committee members have feared this potentially close connection between church and state may cause more controversy than the town is ready for, since other non-town properties are not receiving similar services.

Town services were provided to the property over 10 years ago and had been agreed upon at the time because the town had prior ownership to the land on the facility known as the Raymond Wixson Community Center.

The church had asked that the town re-establish their former relationship and continue to plow snow from their parking lot when needed with no additional cost. The church agreed that DPW would not have to apply any salt or sand to the parking lot, or be obligated to shovel and remove snow without the help of machinery or any other from of maintenance other than plowing.

If the agreement had been approved, in exchange for plowing services the Community Church would have offered residents full use of the Youth Center and church facilities at no charge for activities such as the Recreation Department programs, Senior Momentum, for playgroups, pick-up sports, games, cooking classes, exercise classes, and family activities.

Other than the history the town has with the facility, the MOU stated that the Community Church facilities provide for after-school activities, and space for community groups including Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, the Village Nursery School, and substance abuse meetings.

The MOU also addresses the fact that the church is a "staging area" for many community events and parades, and that the church parking lot serves as a way to "enhance the circulation of traffic" by providing more parking spaces as well.

Nevertheless, the selectmen decided to put the church and state controversy to bed for now.

One resident stood in front of the board after the decision was tabled, pleased with the outcome. He thanked the board for not continuing to plow snow in the Community Church parking lot since he thought it would have "opened up a lot of problems in the town."

The next Board of Selectmen meeting will be held on Nov. 4 due to holiday schedule changes.

Martin Lord and Osman
Salmon Press
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