City council mulls funding source, site for police station
VERGENNES — Vergennes aldermen on Tuesday took another step toward a new police station, and heard for the first time a suggestion on how to pay for it without raising taxes.
Aldermen unanimously voted to ask City Manager Mel Hawley to study building a new station on city-owned land off Green Street, and they heard Hawley cite the Tower Fund as a way to pay for it.
Hawley said a new station — he has yet to pin down a reasonable square footage — could cost $750,000 or more. He also pointed out to aldermen that the Tower Fund — fed by contracts with cell phone companies for the right to put broadcast equipment on the city’s former water tower — now nets $100,000 a year.
A 15-year bond to pay for a $750,000 station would cost about $75,000 a year, Hawley said. And although the Tower Fund has typically been used to back downtown improvements, he said the fund’s mission statement allows it to be used for any “visible, substantial” improvement.
“I think that is a legitimate use of those funds,” Hawley said.
Hawley also produced a “very preliminary” site plan for a buildable portion of an 8.13-acre parcel, which is accessed by a right of way running from New Haven Road’s east side. A survey of the land, which slopes to the rear, found two building sites, one of 2-plus acres to the front left, and one of about an acre to the front right.
Hawley said his work showed the station, including a parking lot and an impoundment lot, fit well on the larger of the two possible building sites, but not on the smaller one.
Aldermen generally said they liked the concept. Alderwoman Ziggy Comeau, a member of an earlier committee that sought alternatives to the force’s cramped two-room quarters in City Hall, said the site met all the guidelines under which the committee had operated: It was off Main Street, had good access to roads, was affordable, and was large enough.
“This fits the criteria,” Comeau said.
Still, aldermen did not want to limit Hawley’s study in case another, better alternative cropped up, however unlikely that outcome might be.
“I would like to keep it open … to at least investigate other properties,” said Alderman Joe Klopfenstein.
Hawley said his experience as a lister and zoning administrator as well as city manager meant it would not take him long to check out all the possibilities, just in case.
“There are some alternatives around town,” he said. “But one of the drivers here is we pay absolutely nothing for the land.”
Mayor Michael Daniels said “before we jump in with both feet” onto the New Haven Road site, that it would be wise to take one last look around.
“We can see the writing on the wall,” he said. “But we should do due diligence.”
A new station would give police a holding cell, a sally port that would allow suspects to be directly taken into the station, storage, bathrooms, a lobby, a sergeant’s office, an interview room, an evidence room, and other amenities now lacking.
It would also end conflicts that can arise between police activities and events at the Vergennes Opera House, which also shares City Hall space. Hawley also told aldermen calls to the city’s police force are up in the past year, increasing its workload.
The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes also remains interested in the New Haven Road land. Aldermen said they will inform club board member Bill Benton that the option of the larger buildable site is off the table. Hawley also said aldermen will have to consider whether they believe the club would be a suitable neighbor for the police department.
Club director Mike Reiderer said earlier this month that the club is looking at other options, too, but he believed the smaller site could be adequate, especially because it is near schools and playing field.
Reiderer said he did not consider building near the police department to be a drawback, citing the club’s strong working relationship with city police, including on teen substance-abuse prevention efforts.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].