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Vergennes takes new budget tack

VERGENNES — In the aftermath of June’s chaotic public debate about police spending that sparked during the city’s budgeting process, the Vergennes City Council at its Aug. 27 meeting agreed to get an early start on a methodical approach to next year’s budget prep.
Council members at first sat down to deal with an agenda item labeled “Vergennes Police Department — Long Term Budget Strategy.”
Mayor Jeff Fritz said he hoped to begin talking now about the larger issue of how much to spend on the police department — by one measure it is close to 40 percent of city spending, exclusive of fee-based sewer budgeting — to avoid “scrambling around at the end.”
Instead, the discussion took a sharp turn into a broader budgeting strategy.
Deputy Mayor Lynn Donnelly said the police department should not be singled out for examination, and that all the city departments should come under the same scrutiny.
“We have to do all of them,” Donnelly said, adding she didn’t believe the police department should lead off.
She suggested that during one meeting a month the council should review in detail each of the departments, with the audit in front of them.
As well as the police department, the budget includes separate sections for administration; public works; general expenses, a category that includes support for the Bixby Library, a number of agencies, recreation funding and more; and the fire and sewer departments.
Council members discussed a number of ideas, including capping overall budget increases and assigning percentages to departments, but made no decisions except to adopt a motion suggested by Fritz.
Beginning in September, Fritz said, the council should start examining each department in alphabetical order, a motion that was eventually adopted unanimously.
In other business, the council:
•  Heard from City Manager Matt Chabot the city would not be receiving a major grant to improve facilities in the Otter Creek Basin. Chabot said a provision of the grant required water depth the basin did not meet.
On the other hand, Chabot said, officials were encouraging the city to apply for a grant for a pump-out station that would allow boaters to dispose of their sanitary waste for free while docking in Vergennes. He also said that he and the council should continue to look at ways to improve the basin area, possibly by adding a portable toilet disguised to look like an outhouse.
•  Heard from Donnelly, a member of the city’s recreation committee, that resurfacing of the city’s skating rink/basketball court was complete and the committee was happy with the results. “We are now going to have a real skating rink,” she said.
Donnelly said the committee now hopes to launch a $135,000 fundraising drive to provide a roof for the facility.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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