City to vote May 14 on bond for a new police headquarters

VERGENNES — As expected, Vergennes aldermen on Tuesday warned a May 14 vote for a $1.45 million bond to fund a new 4,611-square-foot police station on North Main Street, one that will cost taxpayers $400,000 less than the proposal that was narrowly defeated on Town Meeting Day.
The plan calls for savings of about $300,000 in construction costs over the initial proposal, mainly due to a building redesign that cuts out a little more than 1,300 square feet, but also due to savings on site development and land costs. The project cost is now roughly $1.55 million.
Aldermen also now plan to tap the city’s Water Tower Fund for $100,000 to lower the project’s tax impact. That fund is fed by cell phone companies that pay Vergennes to hang broadcast equipment on the former water tower behind city hall.
Late last month, City Manager Mel Hawley estimated the tax impact of a $1.45 million bond at roughly $59 a year per $100,000 of assessed value, down from $75 a year for the original plan.
Bread Loaf Corp. architect Chris Huston told aldermen if residents back the plan on May 14 that construction could begin in late August or September, with a target completion date of late December or January.
Aldermen have said they wanted to act quickly to set another vote: Balloting in May will allow the city to keep its preferred site, a small parcel that is the former home of Vergennes Auto Sales. Owner Bruce Barry has agreed to sell the land to Vergennes for $240,000, but said after the March vote he would not wait forever.
Vergennes voters may well be looking at two bond votes on May 14: The Vergennes Union High School board is set to meet at 5 p.m. on Thursday at the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union office on Green Street to talk a revised bond proposal.
Superintendent Tom O’Brien said this week the board will probably make final a roughly $2 million bond to fix the school’s leaky roof, upgrade its kitchen and cafeteria, and make some improvements to its auditorium (see related story, Page 1A).
Aldermen on Tuesday discussed whether it was a good idea to hold both votes on the same day, something Mayor Bill Benton said he had discussed with O’Brien. Alderman Renny Perry said the feedback he had heard was that residents preferred to go to the polls once, and the council also heard Hawley back joint balloting.
“We all know there’s going to be another bond vote for the school,” Hawley said. “I think it is beneficial for the taxpayer to know what the school is going to put there rather than speculate … I’d rather they stare at it head on.”
Former mayor Mike Daniels, attending as a citizen, suggested the VUHS board and the city council could hold a joint informational meeting on the two bond proposals, something he said could boost attendance for both and help both boards get information out.
Aldermen also welcomed that suggestion as they set the vote date, but will be waiting to hear what the VUHS board decides on this Thursday.
The council also reviewed a newly revised floor plan, one that Huston told them can still be changed as late as early June while still meeting the December/January target completion date.
Gone from the defeated proposal are separate offices for the department’s sergeant and detective, fitness and intake rooms, and a drive-in evidence-processing garage. The function of the latter feature can be handled by the building’s sally port, Huston said.
Some rooms have been moved around in the draft plan aldermen looked at on Tuesday. Most notably, the evidence storage room has been placed closer to the sally port on the building’s left side, the central patrol room has been expanded to make room for the sergeant and detective, the sizes of the hallways and front lobby were reduced, and the men’s and women’s locker rooms were moved to the right side of the patrol room, essentially changing places with the evidence room.
Huston and Police Chief George Merkel said on Tuesday the new plan would be adequate for the department’s operational needs.
“It will serve the chief and his staff efficiently,” Huston said.  
The council’s police station committee, which includes Hawley and Merkel and three aldermen, will continue to meet to discuss the project.
As aldermen had discussed at their March 26 meeting, they expanded that committee, adding newly appointed alderwoman Lynn Donnelly, a station supporter, and Gerry Stagg, who they said had been critical of and asked good questions about the original plan. Staggs’ appointment was subject to his acceptance.
Aldermen also pledged to publicize the police station committee meetings to allow for more public input, although none was scheduled on Tuesday.  
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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