St. Paul’s working with city to finance sidewalk upgrade

VERGENNES — Representatives of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church met with the Vergennes City Council early last year about a joint sidewalk and landscaping project.
Sarah Stroup and Sarah Cowan, members of the church’s Strategic Investment in Sacred Places committee, said they were thinking strategically about how the St. Paul’s west lawn is a pleasant community resource, and pitched upgrades in that spirit.
The sidewalk runs along Park Street, past the city bandstand on one side and along church property on the other. The three-foot-wide sidewalk, which the plan calls to widen to five feet, is in fair condition at best.
At that time the estimate to replace the deteriorating Park Street sidewalk and its retaining wall with a wider sidewalk and shorter wall stood at $92,500.
They hoped the city would pay for a full half of the cost, with the VTrans grant — awarded in April 2018 in the amount of $46,250, or half the then-estimated cost — paying the rest.
After debate, the council in February 2018 agreed to pay for $23,125, or 25 percent of the project, from the city’s Water Tower Fund, and front the remaining $23,125 to the church with the understanding that the church would pay the city back over five years, and that further talks could be held about funding terms.
A year later, finances are still not fully pinned down. The church is still talking with city officials about how much each partner should pay for a cooperative sidewalk project now estimated at $80,000, with the $46,250 VTrans grant in hand.
The council acknowledged the sidewalk needs replacing.
City officials and committee members will talk again after Town Meeting Day. City Manager Matt Chabot, who as an alderman a year ago supported no more than a 25-percent city contribution, said he likes the plan. But he said it remains a council decision on the question of competing needs for the Water Tower Fund, such as work to the city pool and other recreation facilities, other downtown projects, and even to city hall.
“In my new capacity as city manager I support this initiative on behalf of St. Paul’s, and I look forward to working with them starting hopefully in late spring of this year,” he said
The council will make the call then on whether to alter the arrangement approved a year ago.
“That will be determined when we get into budget sessions,” Chabot said. “Our annual budget for sidewalk repair is $15,000, for example, and we might have an existing situation on South Water Street that might require those funds to be allocated down there. So, again, it will come down to the budget.”
Cowan said St. Paul’s could dip into its own coffers, but possibly at the expense of other church needs or of the larger improvement plan, such as adding stone steps in the wall or an outside deck to provide seating near the entrance to the parish hall — a $20,000 item.
“(In) a worst-case scenario, we have the resources,” Cowan said.
She added that Chabot will solicit bids that could move the final project cost lower, thus possibly easing the burden for both parties

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