Alderman refine search for police HQ

VERGENNES — Vergennes aldermen at their April 24 meeting crossed two sites off their list of potential homes for a new city police station.
They will no longer consider a building owned by Alderwoman Ziggy Comeau at the intersection of School and Green streets, or a state-owned building on MacDonough Drive on the eastern edge of the Northlands Job Corps campus.
Aldermen have in recent weeks been individually evaluating sites on a preliminary list identified by City Manager Mel Hawley and Police Chief George Merkel. Hawley on April 24 told aldermen he would like them to vote to pare down the list for further study, and that Comeau’s and the state’s building stood at the bottom of their individual rankings.
Remaining in the running as a station site are two vacant lots, an 8-acre city-owned parcel off New Haven Road, and another tract on North Main Street just south of the VELCO substation; and six properties with existing buildings that would require renovation: the Denecker Chevrolet dealership, C.H. Mann Lumber, and Kennedy Brothers, all on North Main Street, and the Green Street building that now houses Addison Northwest Supervisory Union offices.
At the meeting, aldermen said they were leaning toward also crossing the C.H. Mann property off the list because it is on land leased from Vermont Rail Systems.
But Aldermen Bill Benton, a real estate appraiser, said a 99-year or comparable lease might be workable, and said he would research whether such an arrangement would be possible. Aldermen said they would wait to see what Benton learned before deciding whether to continue to study that property as an option.
City officials agree the current two-room police office in Vergennes City Hall is too small and lacks many features of a modern station, such as a holding cell, interview room or sally port. Officials have also said they would like to separate the functions of the police station and the second-story Vergennes Opera House, which now share an entrance.
Aldermen plan to create two committees to evaluate the two sets of options — bare land and existing buildings — as the next step.
At the April 24 meeting, Hawley didn’t discuss numbers, but said he was optimistic the city’s finances would end up in the black, possibly well into the black, at the June 30 conclusion of the fiscal year.
“(Now) you can actually begin to predict how things will look at the end of the year,” he said.
On the income side, Hawley said, “The revenues do look pretty good,” citing interest and ticket income and delinquent tax collection.
He also said public works department spending is in “ridiculously good shape” after the mild winter, and that there should be no need to raise sewer rates in 2012 with the sewer fund also in good standing.
Police spending is running over budget, mostly because of high costs in the first half of the fiscal year, Hawley said.
“Police continues to be a concern,” he said. “That department dug itself into a hole in the first six months.”
But one department alone did not cloud the sunny picture Hawley painted for aldermen.
“I do expect the police department to go over budget, but overall I feel pretty good,” he said.
Aldermen also:
• Heard from Hawley that the board of listers had completed its work on the 2012-2013 grand list. The deadline for residents to grieve their tax assessments is Monday, April 30 at the close of business, he said.
• Approved the 2012 Vergennes farmers’ market city green schedule of Thursdays from 3 to 7 p.m., beginning in June and running through September. Aldermen also agreed to contribute $250 to advertise the market, something Hawley said at some point would stop being an annual expense. “It’s to help get it established, like Middlebury and Shelburne,” he said. “Last year was a huge success. They’re headed in the right direction.”
• Heard a plea from Mayor Michael Daniels for volunteers for Saturday’s Green Up Day in Vergennes. Daniels said those interested should arrive at the city green at 7 a.m.
• Heard from Daniels that he is also still seeking sponsors to provide financial support to light the Otter Creek falls from French Heritage Day to Vergennes Day this summer.
• Were told by Daniels he had given Long Trail Physical Therapy owner Michael DiPalermo the key to the city the day before DiPalermo’s birthday. Daniels said DiPalermo had donated services to local seniors and youth athletes, as well as performed many other volunteer activities that included sponsoring a relief truck to Rochester in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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