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Sidewalk repairs won’t dip into city taxpayers’ pockets

VERGENNES — Vergennes City Manager Mel Hawley last week said the project to repair the sidewalk and provide handicap access to businesses at the intersection of Main and Green streets should be complete by mid-November, at no direct cost to city taxpayers.
The project, which will also improve a bus stop and a sidewalk bulb-out at the intersection’s southeast corner, carries a total starting price tag of about $84,500, which Hawley said will be inflated by a few change orders.
A grant obtained because Vergennes is an official Vermont Designated Downtown will pay for half the initially estimated cost, with the remainder shared by the city and the businesses that will benefit from the new handicap access platform: Linda’s Apparel and Gifts, Addison Outfitters, Shear Cuts, and Hollyhocks Flowers and Designs.
Hawley, who reported progress on the project to aldermen at their Oct. 12 meeting, said after change orders the city’s share would be roughly $35,000.
But Vergennes will not have to tap its taxpayer-supported general fund for its share. Hawley said the city’s Tower Fund, which is dedicated to downtown improvements, will be used to pay for the project.
That fund was created about a decade ago, when cell phone companies first started leasing the water tower behind City Hall for installation of antennas and other equipment.
With the addition this year of a $2,000-a-month contract from Verizon Wireless, Hawley said Vergennes now earns about $100,000 annually from its water tower deals with four cell phone companies.
In the past decade, that fund has helped pay for similar handicap access and sidewalk upgrade projects in front of the Ryan and Stone blocks, as well as other downtown improvements, with both the city and private business and building owners also kicking in shares.
In other business at the aldermen’s Oct. 12 meeting, they:
• Heard from Addison County Transit Resources officials that the recent expansion of ACTR’s Tri-Town Shuttle bus service and its switch to making direct runs between the towns of Vergennes, Bristol and Middlebury has increased ridership not only overall, but also on a per-trip basis.
• Learned that the Vergennes Animal Hospital has agreed to continue serving as the city’s animal pound, on a trial basis, until April. The business had told aldermen they had wanted to cease that task, at least in part because of problems with animal owners who did not want to pay fines and fees. “It has apparently not been pleasant over there at times,” Hawley said.”
But Hawley and City Clerk Joan Devine have proposed that in the future the city bill out all fees to make the animal hospital’s job easier, and the hospital has agreed to stay on the job to see if that proposal works. Hawley and Devine are also reworking the city’s animal ordinance to ease some fines, some of which they told aldermen last month are unreasonable. Hawley said they hope to present a rewritten law to the council next month.
• Confirmed the appointments of Shannon Haggett and Mike Winslow to the city’s planning commission, and that of planning commission chairwoman Alex McGuire to the development review board.
• Heard from Hawley that the Vermont Division of Buildings and General Affairs is now handling the move of the city’s historic wooden train station to nearby Ferrisburgh, next to the Agency of Transportation’s commuter lot. Hawley said the latest concept in the nine-year saga is to move the depot during the winter while the ground is frozen, and not to wait until the spring.
A local committee including Hawley, Ferrisburgh Town Clerk Chet Hawkins and resident Bob McNary, Addison County Chamber of Commerce head Andy Mayer, and Rep. Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes, will continue to serve in an advisory capacity, Hawley said.
• Were told by Hawley that only seven of 927 Vergennes property tax payers were in arrears, with the total amount past due being about $4,000. Hawley called that total surprisingly low, and said it was possible the city’s new grace period that allows taxpayers extra time to make payments might be at least in part responsible. “It’s remarkable, really,” Hawley said. “That’s all that is owed.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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