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Ferrisburgh, Vergennes officials talk sewer extension

FERRISBURGH — Last Tuesday’s sit-down in Ferrisburgh town offices with town and Vergennes officials to discuss a possible sewer extension deal did not produce an immediate meeting of the minds, but both sides said afterward they would keep lines of communication open.
“It definitely wasn’t, ‘No, we don’t want it,’” said Ferrisburgh selectboard chairwoman Loretta Lawrence on Wednesday. “We want to keep it in discussion.”
Mayor Michael Daniels also said afterward he hoped talks would continue, although it appeared the city’s proposed split of tax revenue might be a sticking point.
“If they have a better idea, we’ll listen,” Daniels said.
The city has proposed a deal that, as in a 1994 arrangement approved by Vergennes voters but rejected by their Ferrisburgh counterparts, would split on a 50-50 basis extra tax revenue created by extending sewer lines to parcels east of the city.
That revenue provision could be a bone of contention.
“We were right up front with them we didn’t agree with the 50-50,” Lawrence said. “And they made it clear they weren’t changing the 50-50 split.”
Daniels said talks didn’t necessarily have to end there, for two reasons. One, he said at the Tuesday meeting, was that the proposal is preliminary.
“The council hasn’t voted on anything. This is just to start talks,” Daniels said. “We’ve been told we’ve built a fence around Vergennes. We’re taking it down, link by link.”
Daniels also said that when selectmen and Ferrisburgh residents understand the potential benefits, their positions could change.
“They (selectmen) want to protect their citizens, when it’s really up to their citizens to decide whether they want to do this,” Daniels said.
To make the plan work, an overlay tax district would be necessary in which Ferrisburgh would apply a tax surcharge to property owners and turn it over to Vergennes. Any other way, said Vergennes City Manager Mel Hawley, would create problems for Ferrisburgh under the state’s complex school funding laws.
Within that framework, he offered an example of how such an agreement could work, using Denecker Chevrolet as the property. Dealership owner Tom Denecker approached Vergennes officials seeking sewer service because, city officials said, GM is asking him to add repair service on the site. Denecker’s property and land owned by Ferrisburgh at the intersection of Routes 7 and 22A are on the list of properties that would be served under the city’s new sewer proposal.
Hawley said that if Denecker’s property was assessed now at $500,000 and paid $10,000 in taxes, Ferrisburgh would keep those funds.
If sewer service allowed an expansion that was valued at an additional $500,000 and created $10,000 more in property taxes, each community would receive $5,000, he said.
It remains at least possible that Denecker could strike a private deal for sewer, but city officials have been historically reluctant to do so, with some exceptions: In the 1990s aldermen said they would extend a line for a proposed Country Home Products plant. Such a deal for Denecker would require voter approval.
Lawrence said city officials also told selectmen they were reluctant to simply OK sewer service into a neighboring town without consulting that town’s officials. Lawrence said the Ferrisburgh selectboard had not discussed as a group how they would feel about a private extension.
“Personally, I wouldn’t (oppose it), but I can’t speak for the board,” she said.
But Hawley suggested at Tuesday’s city council meeting that Denecker’s next stop should be Ferrisburgh to support an inter-municipal deal.
“Tom, if he needs sewer, he should go to the town of Ferrisburgh’s selectboard,” Hawley said.
It sounds like most agree there won’t be a quick answer. Hawley said it will take time to explain fully the ins and outs of the tax overlay district and the city’s half-a-loaf-is-better-than-none position to selectmen and Ferrisburgh residents, as well as to the city’s own voters. Residents of both towns would have to approve any inter-municipal deal.
“Not only would they have to do that with their property owners and people, we would have to do the same,” Hawley said. “The key is education.”
Ferrisburgh officials at the meeting, including lister Carl Cole, said they would take their time to consider the issue.
“Unlike healthcare, we don’t have to do this tonight,” Cole said.
Still, Lawrence said the town is willing to listen and think about a solution that might make both sides happy.
“I just think maybe there are other ways to work this out,” she said. “There may be a way to do this where everybody comes out with a win-win situation.”
Hawley told aldermen in summarizing the meeting in Ferrisburgh that he and Daniels made it clear they shared the patience expressed by town officials.
“One thing we made clear to them is we were in no rush whatsoever,” Hawley said.

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