Vergennes City Hall to get a makeover

VERGENNES — The interior of Vergennes City Hall will in the next two or three months receive a facelift at no direct cost to city taxpayers.
On Tuesday the Vergennes City Council voted unanimously to tap the Vergennes Water Tower Fund for $25,000 to pay for improvements to walls, ceilings and flooring; lighting and wiring upgrades; and completion of work to the meeting room that has been in progress for more than a year.
The Water Tower Fund is fed by payments from cellphone companies who hang broadcast equipment on the city-owned former water tower behind city hall. It is intended to be used to improve city-owned property.
City Manager Matt Chabot said at Tuesday’s meeting he has had his eye on city hall’s fraying surfaces and incomplete meeting room (formerly the police department’s squad room before the force’s new station was built) since he was first elected as an alderman, and he recommended the project and the funding source to the council.
“This was something that was near and dear to my heart when I was a member of the council,” Chabot said.
Work on the meeting room has proceeded in fits and starts. Former Mayor Michael Daniels and other volunteers made a lot of progress, and now Chabot said he has professionals lined up to complete that project and then turn their attention to the rest of the city offices.
Work will include ceiling and floor tiles, paint and carpeting throughout; wiring in the new meeting room; LED lighting to replace aging fluorescent fixtures throughout; and a foldable conference table with wheels in the meeting from that will allow for flexible usage of that space.
The council — which has been meeting regularly for years in the basement of the city’s Green Street fire station — and the city’s planning commission and development review board will hold most meetings in that room, according to council members on Tuesday.
City offices will also get new phones. Callers at times have noticed the difficulty employees have in transferring calls from one phone to another, Chabot acknowledged.
“We don’t have two phones in city hall that match,” he said.
Alderwoman Lynn Donnelly asked why a new reception counter and desks were not included in Chabot’s list. Chabot answered he expected to “work toward” more improvements, possibly by requesting those items in the upcoming 2019-2020 budget the council will adopt in June.
In other business on Tuesday, the Vergennes City Council:
•    Discussed hiring an assistant to help the board of listers. Chabot and City Clerk Joan Devine told the council former city manager Mel Hawley did much of the technical and field work for the board. Mayor Renny Perry said the council would look into the availability of a qualified assistant and the cost of bringing someone aboard.
The discussion started after Chabot said no one was interested in filling a vacancy on the board of listers, in part because of the workload.
•    Agreed to recommend to the Vermont health commissioner that Chabot become the city’s health officer, replacing Perry, who was performing the duty on an interim basis.
•    Agreed to loan the city fire department $7,000 from the city Water Tower Fund to complete its fire truck purchase and fit-up, to be paid back over two years. The council made the loan conditional on the assumption that the department’s Ray Davison Fund did not have enough in it to make the loan.
•    Heard from Chabot that an audit of the city books had gone well, with the exception that auditors continue to criticize the city for not conforming to Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) requirements. Hawley had been on record as saying the GASB standards were cumbersome, unnecessary and expensive.
But Chabot and Perry said the city should work toward meeting the standards, in part because there were benefits, language in the audits was critical of the city, and the resulting audits would be easier to understand for officials and residents.
•    Heard from Chabot that he believed the January transition to new operators at the city recycling station had gone well overall despite a couple of snags. Chabot said he had received one formal complaint after Casella Inc. left exactly at noon on Saturday while many people remained in line, and said in the future the traffic patterns should probably be reversed in the heavy traffic/recycling days after the holidays, with vehicles coming in from the Panton Road end and not from West Main Street.
But council members said they had heard no complaints, and Chabot praised the operation.
“All in all, I think it has gone off very, very well,” he said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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