Price of city land deal revealed to be $20,000

VERGENNES — Vergennes officials revealed at Tuesday’s city council meeting that if aldermen approve a proposed purchase of a small riverfront parcel from Mayor Bill Benton and his sister the sale price would be $20,000.
City Manager Mel Hawley also said on Wednesday that the appraised price of the 0.4-acre parcel, which is next to the city docks and also fronts on Macdonough Drive, came in at $30,000.
Benton told the Independent earlier this month that he and his sister would stick to the verbally agreed-upon price even though the appraisal came in at a higher amount. No contract exists, and it is up to the city council to make final the agreement.
The council has been waiting for the appraisal and a survey, and received on Tuesday what Hawley called “a draft survey” that showed a small unclaimed piece of land next to and to the south of the Bentons’ parcel.
That parcel, which Hawley estimated had 36 feet of frontage on Otter Creek and 100 feet along Macdonough drive, lies between the Bentons’ land and another city-owned lot.
Hawley said aldermen on Tuesday discussed the fact that the draft survey confirmed the existence of that lot next to the Benton parcel, but took no immediate action to move the Benton purchase forward.
Vergennes already leases the land from the Bentons for $1 a year, and floating city docks stretch along its waterfront during warm-weather months. There are also a handful of parking spots on the parcel.
Making further improvements to the land is a problem if Vergennes does not own the parcel: City officials have discovered grant-awarding foundations or state agencies will not do so for projects on leased land.
Hawley has said the probable source of payment for the land is the city’s Water Tower Fund. Aldermen use that fund, which is fed by cellphone companies that pay to hang broadcast equipment on the city’s former water tower, at their discretion to make improvements to Vergennes.
Although the Vergennes city charter requires that residents must approve all real estate sales, the council may acquire real estate without voter approval.
The council also voted to return the $21,000 state grant Vergennes was awarded to build an East Street preschool playground next to the city’s swimming pool.
Hawley said the project, which generated opposition in the neighborhood and by other residents — some thought the project was not needed and the city’s matching Water Tower Fund cash could be better spent elsewhere — could no longer be started by its granting agency’s June deadline.
One neighbor is suing the city for ignoring a Town Meeting Day vote against the playground (aldermen consider that vote both advisory and misleading), causing a delay in the project start; a volunteer labor source has dried up; the project is over budget; and the granting committee refused to allow Vergennes more time to work on those issues.
“We cannot be under way by June 30 for all those reasons,” Hawley said.
The city will not send the full amount back immediately, however. Vergennes has spent $8,100 in design and planning, about $2,900 before the grant from the city’s Watershed Fund. After the grant, Hawley said Vergennes spent about $5,200 from the Water Tower Fund. Aldermen are requesting the grant committee allow the city to keep half that amount, Hawley said.
“Hopefully, in the next couple weeks we’ll find out the committee’s response,” he said.
In other business, aldermen:
•  Heard from Hawley that those residents who wish to grieve their tax assessment must show up at City Hall with their documented evidence at 5 p.m. on June 5, or submit that evidence before then. Hawley said he expects the Vergennes grand list to increase by about $1.3 million, or roughly 0.6 percent.
•  Agreed to hold a June 9 public hearing on a $30,000 Vermont Community Development Program grant application that would allow the Mary Johnson Children’s Center to plan for a child center on Armory Lane.
•  Heard from Hawley that due to the dropping values of recycled material the cost of operating the city’s recycling center could increase by 20 percent to $75,000, or more. Hawley said he has discussed curbside recycling with Casella Inc., and that the council should be aware that it might make sense to shutter the center at some point.
City taxes pay for half the center’s cost, with Ferrisburgh (20 percent) and Addison, Panton and Waltham (10 percent each) also chipping in. Hawley noted the other towns have already budgeted for the year and would be dealing with a mid-year increase.
•  Agreed to make an exception to the city’s 48-hour Otter Creek basin docking rule for the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum’s Vergennes Union High School rowing program. LCMM representative Nick Patch told city officials VUHS budget cuts mean more rowers need to dock at the basin instead of come out at the museum. The agreement assumes LCMM will work around city dock installation. 

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