City mulls sewer rate break for seniors

VERGENNES — Vergennes aldermen on Nov. 16 in a 5-0 show of hands backed creating a discount for seniors on their annual sewer bills, but officials acknowledged it would probably be a year before the rate break could take effect.
City Manager Mel Hawley said the city has a $70,000 surplus in the sewer fund, but is collecting fees at a rate of only about $589,000 a year of the $600,000 needed to fund the sewer system. The projection had been higher, but Northlands Job Corps has tightened up its drainage and cut payments, he said, and is still working to reduce runoff entering the sewer system.
By the end of the fiscal year next summer, Hawley said he would be able to pin down what rates must be, and after that, the rate structure can be adjusted to give seniors a break.
“I think we could do something in November (2011),” he said.
City council members Christine Collette, Randy Ouellette and Ziggy Comeau will work with Hawley to come up with a proposal for the full council that Ouellette said he hopes will provide real relief.
“I’d like to see it be meaningful,” he said. “These elderly need a break.”
Newly re-elected state Reps. Greg Clark and Diane Lanpher also visited the council on Nov. 16 to discuss the upcoming legislative session.
Lanpher said, as has been widely noted, the major issue will be Vermont’s $112 million financial shortfall.
“Number one will be the budget,” she said.
Clark said that figure could even grow, and said he hoped the council would remain in “pretty steady communication” with Lanpher and him about the budget and other key questions, including Vermont Yankee relicensure and transportation infrastructure.
“It’s going to take some serious people to make some big decisions about these issues,” he said.
Aldermen said they hoped legislators would look into making casinos legal to create a new revenue stream. Clark said he had in the past introduced a bill to legalize casino gambling, but that it failed to earn support then and he was not optimistic now. Daniels suggested petitions around the state to support the proposal, an idea Clark endorsed.
Lanpher, who has a background in social services, was less enthusiastic. “It’s something I know has been proven to create economic hardship on families,” she said.
Lanpher said instead that there were up to $1 billion in economic incentives that legislators do not examine closely every year, and that the budget gap could possibly be closed instead by studying whether all were still necessary.
Collette had the last word in discussions between the council and the representatives.
“There should be no parties, no Democrats or Republicans,” Collette said. “I just want to know you’re all working up there together to help.”
Aldermen also approved a proposal by Hawley and City Clerk Joan Devine to amend the Vergennes dog law. All fines will now be $30 and will not escalate for repeat offenses. Owners of dogs picked up must also pay pound fees, including any flea and tick treatment as well as boarding costs, directly to the city.
In the past, the Vergennes Animal Hospital has collected the fees, and some tension has been caused there, Hawley and Devine said. That led the hospital owners to want to stop acting as the city pound. Once the law takes effect in a month-and-a-half, city officials will pay the animal hospital and then be responsible for collection, a decision that led the hospital owners to agree to stay on as the pound at least through April.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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