City council to study recreation options

VERGENNES — Vergennes aldermen heard at their Jan. 13 meeting from Mayor Bill Benton that he would like them later this year to consider a comprehensive recreation plan for the city.
The first step, said Benton in a Wednesday interview, will be to create a group to assess the city’s recreation inventory and needs and take another look at what residents would like to see offered.
“The city plan talks a little bit about the parks. It talks a little bit about a rec director, but it doesn’t go into any amount of detail,” Benton said. “So what we decided we would do is maybe appoint a group of five to 10 people, a committee to develop a plan.”
More than a decade ago, Vergennes had a part-time, grant-funded recreation director, but the council was not willing at that point to spend money to keep the position.
Benton said the new process would not necessarily produce a recreation director, but that the committee would consider “a mission statement, an inventory of parks and improvements, maintenance and security procedures, and then get into programming, what do people want and what can we afford, what will work well in the community, budgeting, where does the money come from? Does the city start to pay for some of this, or do we look to fees?”
Benton and City Manager Mel Hawley have met with Middlebury Parks and Recreation Department head Terri Arnold to learn more about how Middlebury operates; Benton said that meeting was helpful.
The goal for the study committee will be to present its work to the city council by May, when aldermen are beginning work on the next city budget.
“We’ve never really had much in the way of programming. In terms of that, we’re really going to have to talk to the public and look at the dollars and cents,” Benton said. “And there may be recommendations, and if there’s strong support we might take it to the council and move forward somehow. If there isn’t, then it’s really a matter of, we have these parks, what can we do to make them better?”
Aldermen also on Jan. 13 discussed a land purchase that would cement city ownership of all Otter Creek frontage between the city’s MacDonough Drive docks and the stairway that leads down from Main Street to the northwest side of the river.
Benton and his sister Betsey Benton own the 600 feet of frontage between the stairwell and Potash Brook, near the MacDonough Drive pump station. Since 2010, they have rented the land to Vergennes for $1 a year on a lease that automatically renews.
But Benton said the city’s Otter Creek task force formed in 2014 discovered the city could not obtain grants to improve the river frontage without owning the land.
At that point, members of the task force approached Benton, who spoke to his sister.
“We said we could very easily and quickly sell the land down by the docks. We’re willing to talk,” he said, adding, “We’d have to sell it for something, but if it is a fair number, we’d be happy to do it.”
Last week, aldermen discussed a potential deal in an executive session. Hawley said no decision or motions were made after the closed-door session, but that the topic “will be an agenda item for the next meeting.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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