Benton confirms he’ll run for a final term as city mayor
VERGENNES — Vergennes Mayor Bill Benton last week said he would run for a third — and what he called a final — two-year term as the city’s top elected official.
Benton said a number of efforts are about to pay off — including Otter Creek basin projects, city pool upgrades, and work to improve downtown pedestrian and bicycle safety — and he wants to see them through.
“We’ve gone through all this planning. Hopefully the fun begins now because the implementation will happen,” he said.
At the same time, Benton said he is wary of becoming “stale” by staying on too long, and pointed to several potential strong candidates to succeed him in 2019.
In calling this his final term — if elected in the face of some rumored opposition — Benton also said if things go as he hopes most of his goals when he was elected as mayor in 2013 will be met.
“I think in two years I can accomplish most of what I set out to do,” he said.
Many of those goals are outlined in a “Vergennes Downtown-Basin Master Plan,” a document supported by a 2015 $87,000 Strong Communities, Better Connections grant intended to improve the city’s economy and quality of life by calming traffic and linking the Otter Creek basin with downtown.
That planning effort in turn grew out of a 2014 “Community Visit” sponsored by the Vermont Council on Rural Development.
“We’ve gone through the community visit process. We’ve gone through the Strong Communities, Better Connections process with the master plan,” Benton said. “We’ve got a lot of things I would like to accomplish, and I think the city council would like to accomplish, in terms of recommendations from some of those planning exercises.”
For example, Benton said with help from grants in the next two years Vergennes could improve its city docks and basin parks, including with lighting; make upgrades to the walking paths linking Main Street with the basin; and install signs to help visitors, including boaters, find their way from downtown to the basin, and vice versa.
“We have some really good ideas on how we can improve some of the parks in the basin area,” he said. “Now we’re eligible for some grant funds and we can start doing some capital improvements.”
Benton also wants to follow through with the council’s pedestrian and bicycle safety initiative, started late last fall, which so far has particularly focused on crosswalk safety and children’s ability to walk to schools safely.
The council appointed a task force to make recommendations, with help from the Addison County Regional Planning Commission and other outside consultants, that can be put in place as soon as this spring.
“They’re working hard on it. They’ve got some experts. Hopefully they’ll have some recommendations we can implement,” Benton said. “We will fund some of the things ourselves, but we will also probably apply for some funding to take it to another level.”
Benton would also like to see through the council’s effort to protect the future of the city pool, an effort he said will be aided by a recent inspection.
“We finally got the pool study. The city council will be talking about what we want to do there in terms of safety issues, repairs, staffing,” he said. “I hope we’ll be able to rectify all those issues.”
Benton also wants to continue to support the Vergennes Partnership, which is charged with enhancing the health of downtown Vergennes and has also taken an active role in promoting economic development. He cited the partnership’s efforts in helping Shacksbury Cider move to Vergennes, working with the owners of Kennedy Brothers, creating a Vergennes marketing video, and helping downtown businesses.
“I think we’re working really well with them. They’re providing a service to the city,” he said. “I think they’ve proven themselves.”
Another factor in Benton’s decision to run again was what he called a good working relationship with not only the council members, but also City Manager Mel Hawley, City Clerk Joan Devine, Assistant Clerk Melissa Wright, and all the city departments.
“I think we have a great city council. I think we work really well together. I think we respect each other, and we generally are able to reach consensus. So I enjoy working with them, and I think we can accomplish things,” Benton said. “I think everybody respects each other in terms of the municipality.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at email@example.com.
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