Aldermen could take up issue of ownership of city rec land
VERGENNES — Vergennes aldermen on Oct. 27 inched closer to a decision to accept ownership of the land under the city pool and nearby recreation facilities and discussed a way to help finance long-term operation and maintenance of the pool.
City Manager Mel Hawley suggested that the city council should request that the Vergennes ID school board, which now owns the land but is scheduled to dissolve next June, sell an adjacent eight-acre parcel it also owns and turn the proceeds over to the city.
The take from the sale could create a fund to help Vergennes afford pool ownership, he said.
“The pool has been run on a shoestring. That really concerns me, to take that on,” Hawley said.
The land in question runs behind homes on New Haven Road and is little used by schools. Its $28,000 purchase was funded by city residents on Oct. 1, 1980, Hawley said, with no financial support from Panton and Waltham, the other towns that send children to the nearby Vergennes Union Elementary School.
Therefore, Hawley told aldermen, it would be fair for the city to be compensated now that voters approved the dissolution of the Vergennes ID board.
“Those other two towns don’t have any equity interest in this piece of land … The people of Vergennes bought that,” Hawley said after the meeting.
Hawley told aldermen that either the full Addison Northwest Supervisory Union could purchase the land, or possibly the owners of homes along New Haven Road might be interested in expanding their lots. The parcel also has a right of way to New Haven Road and could be developed in its own right, he said.
In an interview later in the week, Hawley said he had no specific preference on which approach the ID board took.
“My real desire is the assets of the graded school district, whatever they are, should be used as seed money for the pool,” he said.
At last Tuesday’s meeting, Alderman Joe Klopfenstein, who heads the council committee looking into accepting the pool and recreation land, said his group is still in the fact-finding phase. The committee has been gathering information on pool maintenance costs and fees from other towns and looking into how operations could transition in Vergennes.
Alderwoman Christine Collette asked him if there were any avenues other than city ownership available.
“I don’t think there are any other options at this point,” Klopfenstein said.
Alderwoman Ziggy Comeau and Collette said they were concerned about the costs, although Collette said she could support the takeover if the “ducks were in a row.”
Others were more positive. Alderman Randy Ouellette noted younger members of his family had used the pool over the years, as have many others.
“If there’s a will, there’s always a way,” he said. “I would be really disappointed if we did not pick this up. There’s got to be a way.”
Alderman David Austin said that he was “not concerned about the minutiae at this point” and noted also that for many low-income residents the pool was a major source of summer entertainment.
“It would be unfortunate if we did not gain control of that facility,” he said. “It may be one of the only recreational facilities available to them.”
Hawley urged aldermen to respond to the ID board and ANwSU officials as possible on the question.
“I think we owe them an answer as soon as we can,” he said.
TOUR BOAT ISSUE
Aldermen also discussed with the owners of the 72-foot Moonlight Lady tour boat whether Vergennes should continue to reserve free city dock space for it during summer months, as the city has in recent years. The boat made almost two-dozen overnight stops in the Otter Creek Basin this past summer.
At issue, city officials said, is whether that dock space might better be reserved for private boats, 750 of whom tied up at the docks for free this past summer. City officials noted Moonlight Lady customers typically pre-pay for their meals on board as part of package deals, and that reserving space for the tour boat might not be in the city’s best economic interest.
“I’d rather have the packages in Vergennes not include meals,” Hawley said.
Mayor Michael Daniels said some boaters, who officials believe to be a significant boost for city businesses, have turned away and left because the tour boat is monopolizing docks.
“It has caused people not to stay,” he said.
Moonlight Lady owner Mike Shea and captain Stan Walker said that almost all of their roughly 16 customers per trip do visit the city’s downtown and many shop.
“We’ve been trying to promote Vergennes as a stop,” Walker said.
The owner and captain said they have been considering not including dinners in their prices, a suggestion that caught the council’s attention. Daniels said aldermen would discuss the issue at future meetings and talk further with Shea and Walker.
• Heard from Austin that he has a rough draft prepared of rules and policies for the city’s now-closed skateboard park, and that the park committee would meet soon to review the draft. City officials ordered the park closed because of vandalism this summer and of liability concerns, and aldermen appointed a committee to work on a supervision and maintenance plan to reopen it. Austin said he is still seeking volunteers to supervise the park when it’s back on line.
• Were told by Hawley that there are four qualified finalists for the police chief position, and that he and the search committee would conduct interviews on Nov. 9 and 10, with the intent of making a recommendation on Nov. 17.
Hawley said a letter has also been sent out to all members of the city fire department inviting them to seek the position vacated officially on Nov. 1 by longtime chief Ralph Jackman. He said he also hopes to make a Nov. 17 recommendation to fill that post.
• Heard from Planning Commission Neil Curtis that planning commission vice chairman Justin Basset and board member Andrea Kane have both stepped down. Curtis said he would try to recruit new members via the email sign-up list used at forums during the recent city plan process, but also urged aldermen to recruit through word of mouth.