City council is considering sewer line into Ferrisburgh

VERGENNES — Vergennes aldermen on Tuesday, for the first time in years, reached a consensus to extend city sewer lines into neighboring Ferrisburgh to serve a private business.
Denecker Chevrolet owner Tom Denecker, who has talked about sewer lines with Vergennes and Ferrisburgh officials many times in recent years, approached City Manager Mel Hawley on Tuesday and asked to be added to the evening agenda.
Denecker has a $350,000 contract to purchase 34.91 acres of land owned by Ferrisburgh that lies at the intersection of Routes 7 and 22A. He plans to consolidate his sales and service operations there from existing locations on North Main Street in Vergennes and at the intersection of Monkton Road and Route 7 in Ferrisburgh.
Denecker’s request to the city council was made long after the city had agreed to extend a sewer line to the nearby train station owned by the Agency of Transportation. That station sits both next to the land Denecker plans to buy and to the VTrans park-and-ride lot.
Hawley said on Wednesday that aldermen unanimously backed the concept, although many details remain to be negotiated and a final agreement would be subject to approval by Vergennes voters, as required by the city’s charter.
“Although no specific terms were discussed, the city council was open to entertaining an extension of sewer to that parcel; that would go to the voters for their action,” Hawley said, adding such a vote could occur in November.
Mayor Bill Benton said on Wednesday he wanted to be careful about working out the details of using what all agree is the city sewer system’s extra capacity in this manner.
“It was, ‘let’s look into this further and see where this comes out,’” Benton said. “We’re beginning the process of answering a lot of questions.”
Working in the proposal’s favor, even with the council’s historic reluctance to extend sewer lines, the mayor said, were Denecker’s strong presentation on Tuesday that the dealership will not compete with existing city concerns and that it will be the only business on the land to be served by the sewer line.
“The feeling is that given these particular circumstances, where this is a piece of land where there is no further development and where this business will not be competing with a business located in Vergennes, that this business should be considered,” Benton said.
Hawley said among issues to be resolved are how much sewer capacity Denecker will need, how much the dealership should pay for the projected volume of service, and how much extending the line will cost. That cost will include a pump station that could be shared with the train station.
In the past, Vergennes officials have insisted on receiving a portion of tax revenue from other towns that benefit from extension of city sewer service.
In the early 1990s, Vergennes residents backed a measure that called for such a provision in a proposed inter-municipal agreement with Ferrisburgh, but Ferrisburgh voters rejected it.
But aldermen now believe that position, re-emphasized as recently as 2009 in talks with Denecker and Ferrisburgh, is unrealistic and possibly not legal.
“Under Act 60 and 68, you can’t really share education property taxes,” Hawley said.
On Town Meeting Day in 2007, Vergennes residents backed a city charter change that requires a citizen vote on any deal aldermen strike for a sewer extension outside the boundaries of the city.
The Vermont Legislature later approved that charter change, which Hawley noted does not mention sharing tax revenue.
“The charter change does not require an inter-municipal agreement,” he said.
Aldermen on Tuesday also talked about details of the agreement with VTrans for its sewer line extension. Hawley said it was understood Vergennes would be paid for work already done to prepare for that extension, including extending a line further along Main Street toward the site and installing a manhole that can handle a new pump station. 
But the real news was the possible Denecker extension.
Benton said he remains cautious, but also mentioned that the city’s excess sewer capacity came up in the recent community visit sponsored by the Vermont Council on Rural Development, an event at which more than 100 residents weighed in on the city’s future.
“Maybe this is a good time. It certainly is an asset we have, and we have not taken advantage of it,” Benton said. “I just want to be sure we do our due diligence.”
In other business on Tuesday, aldermen:
• Approved spending up to $19,000 from the Vergennes Burying Ground fund to install what Hawley called “high quality, ornamental, period-style fencing” around some of the perimeter of the city-owned Mountain View Lane cemetery.  
• Okayed another season of the Vergennes Farmers Market on the city green. The market will do business along the front of the park on Thursdays from 3 to 6:30 p.m., beginning on June 12 and ending on Sept. 25.
• Appointed Hawley and Benton as the city’s delegates to the Addison County Regional Planning Commission.  
• After discussion, decided to leave unchanged rates for using the city’s Sam Fishman Pool this summer. Hawley said aldermen would take a close look at the pool’s finances after this season because poor weather in 2013 suppressed pool use and left only a small fund balance.
• Agreed to contribute $1,630 toward the $21,355 cost of restoring and reinstalling the Vergennes Opera House marquee in front of city hall. Hawley said that amount, requested by theater backers, represents the portion of the project that will improve lighting in the courtyard.
• Heard from Hawley that the city will lose one cell phone contract, from Nextel Partners, to hang broadcast equipment on the city’s former water tower behind city hall. The city now has four contracts that contribute about $100,100 a year to the Water Tower Fund that helps pay for downtown improvements.
Hawley said he had been expecting to lose the $30,000-a-year lease because Nextel merged with Sprint, which also leases space on the tower. It is not clear whether payments will stop this October or a year from then, he said. Meanwhile, Hawley said AT&T is negotiating with Vergennes to hang more equipment on the tower, and he expects an additional amount approaching $8,000 to come from those talks.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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