Vergennes agrees to take over pool, land

VERGENNES — After almost a year of discussion, on Tuesday the Vergennes city council voted unanimously to accept a total of about 8.6 acres from the Vergennes ID school board, land that consists of two parcels near Vergennes Union Elementary School and is home to the city’s recreation facilities, including its swimming pool.
The transfer will become effective on June 30, when the ID board is set to dissolve per a March 2009 vote by Vergennes residents. 
The ID board, which dates back to before VUES was founded but did not dissolve when that school was created, originally bought the larger parcel that includes VUES. It then sold land to Addison Northwest Supervisory Union to build that school when it was founded.
The ID board at that point retained the recreation land, consisting of 3.5 acres, and another nearby 8.13-acre parcel. The pool has been operated and maintained by a volunteer committee, and the other recreation facilities — tennis and basketball courts that double in the winter as an ice rink, and more recently a skateboard park — have been maintained by the city.
When city residents voted last March to disband the ID board, essentially a relic that did nothing that could not be handled in the VUES budget, the question became how to handle those real estate holdings.
Tuesday’s council vote finally resolved that issue, which was complicated by aldermen’s questions about the cost of maintaining the pool and by the fact the ID board still owed about $10,000 in a final payment on a bond that paid for repairs and an upgrade to the pool.
ANwSU officials ultimately agreed to put the $10,000 payment into the VUES budget, while city officials have studied and will continue to research the cost of and best way to deal with pool maintenance.
Mayor Michael Daniels said aldermen ultimately agreed that it was best that the city own and maintain the pool, especially when they learned that another option, creating a nonprofit entity to do so, would be difficult and costly to insure.
“It’s a positive thing that the city takes this role on. This is the better way to go that having it run by a nonprofit,” Daniels said on Wednesday, adding, “It’s the best option we have in front of us.”
Daniels said aldermen did not discuss on Tuesday what to do with the second parcel, which runs behind homes on the east side of New Haven Road and can be reached by a right-of-way from that city street.
Daniels might recommend that it remain open for public use for hiking and cross-country skiing trails, and noted that it lies near other open public parcels. He said residents at planning forums, in filling out surveys and in conversations have suggested that more public land and recreations opportunities would be welcome.
“I see it a better value in that use, and … a lot of citizens have come forth,” Daniels said.
Aldermen asked long-time pool committee head Linda Hawley to work with Alderman Joe Klopfenstein to study rates for pool use. Daniels said they would study other towns’ rates, as well as the projected higher cost of maintenance, and make a recommendation to aldermen before the city takes ownership.
Aldermen also still have to decide exactly how pool operations will be overseen. It is certain that lifeguards and maintenance workers will become city employees, and Daniels said aldermen are “very much in hopes” that members of the existing committee will agree to serve with a council member and City Manager Mel Hawley on a new committee for that purpose.
Much still needs to be worked out, however, Daniels said, including finding a replacement for longtime pool maintenance director Roland Guyette, who is ready to step down and, officials acknowledge, is underpaid.
“This is still in the infancy stage,” he said.
In other business on Tuesday, aldermen:
• Approved a liquor license for the potential new owners of Vergennes Wine and Beverage. Daniels said the ownership transfer could occur in March.
• Voted to limit free docking privileges to the Moonlight Lady, a 60-foot Burlington tour boar that has made weekend visits to Vergennes in recent years carrying up to 16 passengers. Aldermen have been concerned that other boaters, who they believe are more likely to spend money at downtown businesses, have been unable to tie up to docks while the Moonlight Lady is there.
Aldermen decided not to allow the tour boat to tie up between July 1 and Aug. 15, or during weekends in which the city is holding special events — including the youth fishing derby, French Heritage Days or the Basin Bash — or is hosting boats during the Lake Champlain International fishing tournament.
The boat’s owners had not been notified of the decision as of the Wednesday morning deadline for this edition of the Independent. They had offered $25 plus $5 per passenger for each time the Moonlight Lady docked.

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