Vergennes backs bus to Middlebury
VERGENNES — Vergennes aldermen on Tuesday reconsidered a decision made during budget deliberations earlier this year and voted unanimously to support a planned upgrade to the Addison County Transit Resource’s Tri-Town Shuttle.
Tuesday’s decision was made easier by a lower price tag: $1,350 instead of an earlier request of about $3,700. ACTR Executive Director Jim Moulton said that figure was pro-rated to represent the amount the city would owe this fiscal year based on the formula the agency used to charge towns that benefit from its services.
ACTR has a $77,000 annual grant that will allow it, starting in February, to run buses five times a day directly from Vergennes to Middlebury and back. Currently, buses make just three round trips and go to Middlebury via Bristol.
Moulton, who was joined in making the pitch by ACTR board member and Vergennes state Rep. Diane Lanpher, said the Tri-Town Shuttle upgrade will make it much easier for Vergennes-area residents to rely on the weekday service to commute to jobs in the Middlebury area.
“This will be transformational in terms of service that Vergennes residents will have,” Moulton said.
Vergennes’ annual share starting in the next fiscal year will be $1,801, or 5 percent of a local match prorated by the population of Vergennes, Middlebury and Bristol. Business sponsorships, donations and rider fees make up the rest of the total 20 percent match required by the three-year grant.
City Manager Mel Hawley said he thought the request was reasonable because of ACTR’s efforts to find other stakeholders to share the burden, especially businesses that need workers who can benefit from the bus service.
“It’s not like they’re asking towns to fund 20 percent. They’ve found businesses that have supported the program,” Hawley said.
Moulton said the $2 round trip cost, as much as the grant allows ACTR to charge, would be cheaper that the current average of $4 of gas needed to make the round trip to Middlebury.
Hawley said the vote would mean a mid-year increase in a line item already supporting ACTR, but that the general fund budget is in good shape and that cost savings could be found elsewhere.
After the vote, Alderman Joe Klopfenstein — a strong backer of the original ACTR request in the spring — said aldermen should take their support a step further.
“We should go beyond providing funds and promote ridership,” Klopfenstein said, possibly in tandem with the Vergennes Partnership.
Moulton welcomed the overture.
“We will take you up on that and work with the council and the partnership,” he said.
Aldermen also heard encouraging news from Vergennes Partnership president Bill Benton and executive director Jackson Evans. The partnership is charged with overseeing the city’s downtown revitalization and must exist if the city and downtown property owners are to be eligible for certain state and federal grants.
Benton and Evans said the partnership now has a full board and an action plan for next year, and that a recent event designed to boost interest in the nonprofit drew 40 people, about double the expected crowd.
“We’re going in the right direction at this point,” Benton said.
Benton said the plan is intended “to build a positive attitude toward business in downtown Vergennes.” Its goals include filling downtown vacancies, resolving parking issues, promoting the Vergennes area’s “art identity” and a special downtown gift currency, and continuing to seek grants for streetscape projects similar to those the partnership has worked on with city officials in the past.
Evans said membership efforts have gone well, and he believes next year should be productive.
“Hopefully, this summer we can hit the ground running,” Evans said.
In other business on Tuesday, aldermen:
• Were told by Hawley that he is recommending to Addison Northwest Supervisory Union officials that the Vergennes ID school board remain in existence long enough to make a final $10,000 payment on a bond that funded repairs to the city pool. Hawley discovered that there was one more payment during ongoing discussions on how the ID board would handle the land it owns — which houses recreation facilities near Vergennes Union Elementary School — when it dissolves per a recent city-wide vote.
• Appointed Second Deputy Chief Jim Larrow as the Vergennes Fire Department’s new First Deputy Chief. Larrow replaces Jim Breur, who took over as chief on Dec. 1 for longtime chief Ralph Jackman, who retired due to health concerns.
• At the urging of both Hawley and planning commission chairman Neil Curtis, appointed three residents to the commission to fill two vacancies, a move permitted by the city charter. Chosen were Tyler Goss, Stacy Raphael and Alexandria McGuire. “I’m thrilled so many people want to be part of the planning commission,” said Curtis.
• At the recommendation of Hawley, charged the planning commission with overseeing VELCO’s landscaping plans for its North Main Street substation. Hawley said he was not happy with VELCO’s latest plans, and that Curtis told him that planners would be happy to “carry the ball” for the city in trying to get VELCO to mitigate the substation’s visual impact.
• Heard from Hawley that the recently concluded audit of the city books was positive. It revealed the cash carryover from the previous fiscal year was $81,000, about $6,000 more than expected; that the fire fund balance was healthy; and that sewer fund was about $59,000 in the black after being in deficit a couple years ago. That final news means the city will be able to continue replacing old sewer lines, Hawley said.
• Heard from Mayor Michael Daniels that the city’s annual Holiday Stroll was a success for downtown merchants and celebrants.
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