City council OKs money to study pool, resurface courts

VERGENNES — After months of discussion, the Vergennes City Council last week decided to spend $4,000 on a professional evaluation of the city’s East Street swimming pool, as a number of residents have urged.
The council on Tuesday, Sept. 13, also decided another recreation facility issue it had debated for a shorter period of time, voting to spend $10,000 to resurface the nearby tennis courts, which double as a wintertime skating rink.
City Manager Mel Hawley said later last week that he would make a recommendation at the council’s next meeting how to pay for the improvements, for which funds were not set aside in the city’s 2016-2017 budget.
Hawley said he was leaning toward recommending the money should come from the city’s Watershed Fund, which was created in the 1990s from the sale of the city’s former reservoir property in Bristol.
Seventy-five percent of the annual interest from that fund over a base amount of $350,000 goes toward supporting recreation in Vergennes. Hawley said the balance stood at about $392,000 as of the end of July, meaning aldermen could spend a little more than $30,000, or three-quarters of the $42,000 of interest.
“It more than likely will come from the Watershed Fund,” Hawley said.
That fund should still have enough left over to pay for a recent $5,500 swimming pool valve replacement and new roofing on the building at the pool as well as the pool inspection and tennis court work, Hawley said.
Supporters of the city pool had been asking the council since this past winter to authorize the $4,000 inspection by an Albany company, but Hawley had hoped a local expert would first take a look at the pool without the expense.
Hawley also has noted many improvements and repairs made to the pool over the years, including the valve, new chlorine handling and gutter systems, a pump upgrade, and new diving boards and lane markers.
But the busy summer months delayed that local inspection, and Mayor Bill Benton said on this past Wednesday that council members all agreed the pool needs some work — most agree it is structurally sound, but its sidewalls at times need patching, including a small area this year — and had lost patience with the process.
“It’s been frustrating, and the board wanted answers,” Benton said.
At the meeting, Benton said Alderman Renny Perry raised the topic of the inspection, and Aldermen Mark Koenig and Jeff Fritz also spoke in favor of an inspection before the council unanimously supported Fritz’s motion, seconded by Alderman Lowell Bertrand, for the $4,000 inspection.
“I voted for it because I wanted it to be unanimous,” Benton said, “and I support the pool.”
The council also dealt with a third infrastructure issue, accepting a final sidewalk inventory created in tandem by members of the Vergennes Planning Commission and Vergennes Union High School students.
Planners Shannon Haggett and John Coburn and resident Greg Edwards worked with the students to identify areas of sidewalks that needed repair and other areas that might be best served by sidewalk extensions.
Benton said aldermen would work with the public works department to make sidewalk repairs a “priority next spring” and choose which areas should be dealt with first.
“The council made it clear they are serious about tackling some of the sidewalk issues,” Benton said.
Council members also discussed amending the city’s winter parking ban. Benton said no formal decision was made, but he believes a consensus was reached not to make any major changes in the law that forbids parking on city streets between 2 and 6:30 a.m. from Dec. 1 to March 31.
However, Benton said council member believe the law could be amended to allow “a certain amount of flexibility,” specifically to allow waivers for businesses that open early or stay open late that would permit customers and/or employees to park during the ban hours, assuming no active plowing by the public works department.
“It can’t be allowed now, but it could be granted if we rewrote the ordinance,” Benton said.
After hearing from Hawley that there are a little more than 100 units without parking and about 370 parking spaces available, Benton said council members would also like to encourage private owners of parking spaces to strike deals with landlords rather than involve city government in solving tenants’ problems.
“I have a feeling it’s going to be more informal,” he said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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