Grange Notes by Tim Swartz, Grange President (with everyone’s help), October 29, 2020
Every year, the VT State Grange holds a meeting…
…which usually lasts 2+ days, and is held at the Capitol Plaza hotel. Like everything else this year. the 2020 event was different! Our Grange Hall hosted a one-day version of the meeting, with layout and procedures changed to provide maximum safety for all concerned.
Attendance was only about 50 people, all attendees wore masks pretty much all the time, seating was spaced for 6 foot “social distance”, and delegates and State officers were careful to sanitize and wash hands, table-tops and the coffee-maker’s handle. The exhaust fans over the stage ran the whole time, with windows opened at the top at the other end of the Hall to allow fresh air to come in. I was very pleased with the positive attitude which the State Grange approached us, and the way we worked through best practices when doing the planning. State Grange officers worked with me on Friday to unroll the floor mats, and to set up chairs and officers’ “stations”. Former State Master Errol Briggs had a 6′ stick to make sure spacing was good–and didn’t have to use it on anyone! The attendance was well below the VT State guidelines which allow up to 50% of the Fire Marshal occupancy limit. For our upstairs Hall, that is normally 129 people with chairs and tables, so 50% would be about 65.
The business of the State Session was taken care of pretty much as usual–but in an expedited manner. Committees were designated to deal with proposed Resolutions, and most “met” virtually before the session to examine and make recommendations about adopting them. Results about all the resolutions are posted on our website: http://capitalcitygrange.org/
We also elected officers, as is done every 2 years. Instead of Grange delegates parading in lines up and down the Hall to publicly place voting slips in baskets on a central table, the Stewards walked around and picked up ballots from everyone. By doing this, we avoided unnecessary exposure to each other. This is a good example of how we worked to reduce risk for all of us.
The afternoon session (after a break for everyone to eat their own “brown-bag” lunches brought from home) included a Memorial service to honor 27 VSG members who died during the past year–including Marj Power and Les Skinner from our Grange–see the nearby photo showing the VSG Chaplain Jenny Nelson lighting candles as part of the service.
Other work done included approval of the annual budget, approval of committee reports for the last year, and other “housekeeping” which every organization needs to do. We were all pleased to fit this into “only” about 7 hours of meeting, instead of spread over the usual 2+ days. While we will all be happy to meet without masks and “social distance” when we can, it felt good to pull this off.
I can also report that VSG members who had not seen our Hall were impressed! Many have visited before for committee meetings we have hosted–most of those had not seen our renovated lower level, and they all admired those changes! We have appreciated the help which the State Grange has given us, by providing no-interest construction loans for this and other projects. The VSG also gave us a 15-year mortgage loan for our 2008 new entrance and new bathroom (on the main floor) project! We were also pleased to receive a significant donation from the State Grange for use of the Hall, which we can certainly use this year. We appreciate all the help we get from the VSG!
November 7th meeting: planning to renew our property tax exemption
Back in 2016, our Grange worked out an exemption from property taxes from the Town of Berlin, where our Hall is located. At the Town Meeting that year, we presented our desire to be an even better community resource for the Town. As part of that, we committed to offering at least 2 “free rentals” of our Hall per month, for Berlin residents and Berlin organizations. We explained the totally non-profit, volunteer-run nature of the Grange, and described the many non-profit, family and community events we host (in normal times!). We were very pleased when the Town Meeting agreed to give us a 5-year exemption–but of course that time period will expire next March.
Before the exemption, our taxes ran about $7,000 per year. Since we got the exemption, we have been able to break even much more easily–and have also been able to invest money in maintaining and improving the Hall. Some of the projects which the Grange itself was able to afford include replacement of the electric storage-tank water heater with an on-demand one, a long-overdue pumping of the septic tank, driveway repairs and other work. And we were able to contribute $5,000 to the Friends of the Capital City Grange Hall, which planned, financed and managed the renovation of our lower level which took place this past winter. I don’t think any of these would have been possible without the exemption!
We have also built ties with the Berlin Town government and many Berlin residents. Among the many free rentals have been Town Planning committee meetings and hearings held at our Hall, Town potlucks and socials, Berlin Farmers’ potlucks, a Berlin church group having potluck dinners, many private birthday parties, baby showers, Berlin Volunteer fire department dinners and many others as well. We are especially pleased to have hosted the organizational meetings for the residents of the Weston Mobile Home park just south of us on Rt. 12, who joined together to form a “Resident-Owned-Co-op” to purchase the park following the devastation of Tropical Storm Irene. The Board of the ROC has continued to meet at our Hall since that was set up–at no cost since they are Berlin residents! In total, I counted 103 “Berlin free rentals” on our website Calendar from March of 2016 to March of 2020….when everything pretty much stopped.
Our Grange meeting on Nov. 7th, from 4:30 to 6:00 PM will focus on ways to spread the word to Berlin residents and Town government about how we have served the community, and how much we deserve to have the exemption continued. Certainly our survival during this period of very low rentals would have been close to impossible if we had to deal with tax payments as well! It remains to be seen what shape the Berlin Town Meeting will take next March. If you have friends or relations in Berlin, and can contact them to urge their support, that will really help! Anyone who wants more information can contact me directly: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This will be among the issues we’ll discuss; we’ll be happy to welcome you in person at the Grange Hall–or by Zoom! The Zoom link & meeting ID are posted on the Grange website Calendar: http://capitalcitygrange.org/
We wish we could segue to a potluck dinner following this meeting, but that will not be safe for a good while more, based on the current public health situation. We will keep you posted on when this changes, as soon as we can! For now, please join us in obeying VT guidelines, and let’s flatten that curve, again!