Vergennes Partnership to get city funding early

VERGENNES — Vergennes aldermen on Tuesday agreed to an early release of $2,500 in city funding for the Vergennes Partnership, the private organization charged with overseeing the health of the city’s downtown.
The partnership’s continued existence is required by state officials if the city center is to remain an official Vermont Designated Downtown. That status allows the city and downtown property owners to apply for state and federal grants to make improvements to infrastructure and their buildings.
The city and many property owners have done so regularly in the past two decades, most notably to fund the series of Main Street handicap ramps that now access several buildings and many businesses, along with related sidewalk and curbing upgrades.
Vergennes aldermen earlier this year agreed to put $7,500 of funding for the partnership in the city budget, but at that point withheld $2,500 until the partnership undertook a fundraising drive that raised $10,000, with an end-of-the year target date.
City Manager Mel Hawley said on Wednesday the partnership has raised $5,675 to date in cash and pledges, but that aldermen said they were satisfied with the level of effort.
Nor, Hawley said, did aldermen want to hamstring the partnership by forcing the organization to make cuts that would make it more difficult not only to fulfill its mission, but also to raise more money.
“(Now) they don’t have to cut back on either their executive director’s hours or their activities,” Hawley said. “If we hold them to the $10,000, they’re kind of caught.”
Aldermen made the approval conditional on the partnership’s continuing to strive toward its funding goal.
“It is with the expectation they continue their efforts to reach the $10,000 by the end of they year,” Hawley said.
Aldermen also agreed to make a smaller ongoing contribution to the Addison County River Watch Collaborative, which performs regular water quality testing on area streams, including Otter Creek near the city’s sewer treatment plant.
The council approved a $400 annual donation to the group from the city’s sewer fund, an amount Hawley said could be absorbed without an effect on rates.
Hawley said in the past the city had made a regular $300 contribution, but due to a communication gap the practice stopped. The information from the River Watch group, which checks for pollution from failed septic systems and farm run-off as well as sewer treatment plants in Middlebury and Vergennes, has already been valuable to city officials, he said, because the city does not test Otter Creek.
“There’s a real benefit to us because we’re … getting good independent information about water quality in the river,” Hawley said
The council also heard from resident Jeff Margolis, who successfully petitioned for the Dec. 10 vote on whether residents agreed with the city council’s support of proposed Vermont Gas Systems pipeline extension into Addison County that, if approved, would provide natural gas to almost all city residents.
Voters backed the council’s position, 345-143. Margolis said in an email to the Independent he believes the discussion about the long-range environmental impact of the pipeline that the vote triggered was valuable. He also said he appreciated aldermen and Hawley working with him to prepare a petition that he agreed was balanced and made for accurate voting.
“We thanked the council and city officials for their guidance through this process and noted their genuine concern for presenting this issue fairly to the voters,” Margolis wrote. “We feel that the process was a success in bringing about an informed public conversation that did not previously exist.”
Hawley said Mayor Bill Benton added on Tuesday that he believed the well-attended public hearing held on the evening before the vote was also informative.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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