Vergennes residents are eyeing a double-whammy if a city bond to build a new $1.85 million police station is approved as well as two separate bonds for improvements to the Vergennes Union High School that could total $6.2 million. The school bonds will be voted on this coming Tuesday, while a vote to approve the police station bond would be held on Town Meeting Day.
That the bonds land in the taxpayers’ laps at virtually the same time is bad enough, but there are also elements to both the city’s and school’s projects that are less than critical.
The city’s $1.8 million proposal for a new police station comes equipped with plenty of space in which to grow for the next 50 years — a direct comment from city manager Doug Hawley. It’s smart planning, but it’s also an admission of building a facility to grow into — or, in other words, that is more than what is required to get by today.
No doubt the city’s police department could use a newer and larger facility. It would make things easier for them and more professional. It might even make a difference in the quality of their police work, though we suspect the Vergennes police force considers the quality of their work to be topnotch even in trying conditions.
The bond vote is similar at VUHS. The facility needs a retrofit in some critical areas — notably repair to the roofs, and improvements in the auditorium, kitchen and cafeteria. And keeping the school’s paving in decent shape is a must. Those items would be the bulk of the $4.2 million bond, but there are a few frills in the mix as well. The separate bond of $2 million would fund an artificial surface on the school’s varsity soccer/lacrosse field, plus build a six-lane track to surround it — also with artificial turf.
In an era in which the focus of education spending is to beef up the academic credentials of high school students so they advance to higher learning to get higher paying jobs (or any job), these might not be items considered cruical to the success of those students. Would those improvements be desirable? Certainly. Building an all-season track would be a great benefit to the school and to the community at large. Similarly, adding an artificial surface to the lacrosse field makes it much more useful to student and adult athletes. One can even argue that the better quality of life the track and artificial field offers creates a more dynamic community that, in turn, attracts life-long residents — yielding a net gain for the city as the grand list grows.
But banking on future growth is little solace to today’s taxpayers. In the effort to improve our communities year-by-year, to make tomorrow’s future better than today’s, there is also an obligation to do so incrementally so the tax bite is manageable. It could be that city taxpayers are fine with the approach to get it all done while the costs of construction are low and while the need is evident.
If not, the message voters will be sending is not against progress, but rather in favor of greater frugality along the way.
Angelo S. Lynn