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Bennington applies new technology and pandemic guidance to small town

  • Bennington Town offices Staff photo by Abbe Hamilton

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 5/22/2020 12:48:49 PM
Modified: 5/22/2020 12:48:34 PM

Municipal business in Bennington has been catapulted into the digital age as town agencies adapt to COVID-19 guidelines while helping businesses in town to do the same. Bennington is not regarded as a high technology town, Town Administrator Kristie LaPlante said, even though almost all residences have access to high speed internet. She said it’s been fun to see the town pushed into the 21st century as committee members and residents experiment with hybrid meetings, where some attend in person while others call in or attend via Zoom. Budget decisions in a quiet, rural town like Bennington don’t always reflect a value for technology, she said, but it’s been working out as some boards meet remotely for the first time ever. The Select Board has been managing essential business only at this point, she said.

Bennington was the last town in the region to close to the public when Town Hall shuttered on April 1, LaPlante said. “It was a super hard decision to make, what are we if we can’t work directly with our customers?” she said. Now, LaPlante said she and Emergency Management Director Keith Nason are meeting weekly and waiting to see how reopenings in other parts of the state affect COVID-19 case numbers to determine when it’s safe for town offices to reopen.

People interacting with town gov has picked back up in last 3 weeks. “It was eerily quiet for a solid two to three weeks,” LaPlante said, but residents have begun to contact the town government with regular business again over the last three weeks. Most have been incredibly supportive, she said. “A few people are frustrated, but rightfully so,” she said, as everybody is processing a huge change together.

Currently, the most difficult issue facing the town is interpreting state guidance about COVID-19 pandemic protocol, such as the recommendations for restaurants opening with outdoor seating. “Everything is left to local enforcement,” she said, and it’s difficult for town officials to get clarification themselves. “It’s very frustrating and not very efficient,” she said. Town officials are working closely with the management at Alberto’s as well as the recently reopened Common Place Eatery as they all interpret the state’s guidance together, she said.

There is just under $35,000 available to Bennington through GOFERR funds to offset expenses, LaPlante said. The Select Board is discussing what amount to conserve within the budget and its impact on Tuesday, she said. Tax revenues will be down this year, she said, but the town won’t know by how much until the fall.


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