City backs $1.45 millon police station bond

VERGENNES — Vergennes voters on Tuesday backed, 296-186, the city council’s proposed $1.45 million bond to fund a new 4,611-square-foot police station on a North Main Street site between the railroad crossing and Kennedy Brothers. The small lot once was home to Vergennes Auto Sales.
City officials said they expect work to begin on the project in September, with a target completion date early in 2014.
The station will be about 1,300 square feet smaller and $300,000 cheaper than the $1.85 million station aldermen proposed and that city voters narrowly defeated on Town Meeting Day.
After that setback, aldermen not only downsized the building, but also voted to take $100,000 out of the city’s Tower Fund to lower the tax bill for the new station.
City Manager Mel Hawley said that tax impact in the most costly year of a 20-year bond would be $59 per $100,000 of assessed value, a figure he said would gradually decline to around $42.
That estimate includes money for building maintenance as well as bond payments, Hawley said.
Hawley and Mayor Bill Benton also noted that not all city taxpayers would feel the brunt of the increase. In a letter addressed to Vergennes citizens, Benton pointed to “Vermont’s homestead property tax income sensitivity program,” which caps property taxes for those with incomes of $47,000 or less at 5 percent of their income.
Hawley said some residents with low property tax rates as well as incomes in that range or lower could still see an increase, but that many property owners with low or moderate incomes would not pay more for the police station.
For those with incomes higher than $47,000, it could mean $118 in additional taxes on a $200,000 home, or $177 more on a $300,000 home.
Aldermen and Police Chief George Merkel said they were happy with Tuesday’s result.
Merkel described himself as “ecstatic,” and publicly thanked aldermen and city residents at the council’s Tuesday meeting.
“It’s a great … start to moving onto our new digs. Thanks again for all your support,” Merkel said.
Benton said aldermen were pleased that residents understood the need for what the council had proposed.
“I think that the city council is probably very proud of the residents of the city of Vergennes for supporting the bond vote. And now we can go forward and try to get the station built as soon as possible,” he said.
The council’s new design cut out from the original design 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, officials said.
The station retains what Merkel and city officials have said is a central and crucial feature: secure and separate areas for victims and suspects that will ensure victims’ privacy, and safety for victims, suspects and police.
The new station could be subject to minor design tweaks over the next few weeks, officials said.
But its essential layout is set. Its secure “operations” side will include the sally port, into which a cruiser can drive and unload suspects for questioning and/or detention; two holding cells; two interview rooms, which Merkel said are important to allow police to interview suspects separately; a booking room; a juvenile holding room; and evidence storage. The sally port will also be used to store a car being held as evidence, replacing the drive-in area that was removed.
The administration area will include a lobby, a patrol room with work space for the detective and sergeant, men and women’s locker rooms, a multi-purpose room that will be used for training and as a break room, an office for the chief, a witness interview room, a technology room, and several storage rooms, one for required records and another for weapons.
No one before either vote quibbled with city officials’ position that the current 740-square-foot City Hall station is unacceptable due to inadequate separation of suspects and victims/witnesses, undesirable interactions between theater patrons and suspects, and lack of storage, holding cells, bathrooms and other necessities.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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