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City website adds Rec. Dept., police links

It’s basically an all-in-one type of website where people can go to find everything they need about recreational opportunities, or any type of programming, really, in the city.
— Recreation and Programming Coordinator Kim Buckley

VERGENNES — The Vergennes city website will soon offer new links to its recreation and police departments, as the city council last week decided to incorporate both a new recreation website and an existing police site into its vergennes.org home.
Councilors said the recreation website — vergennesrec.org — had potential to allow residents to more easily learn about and sign up for activities and for city employees to accept and track scheduling and payments. Those payments could possibly be for city docks in the future. 
At the Nov. 24 meeting, councilors said incorporating the existing two-year-old police site — vpdguardians.org — will ensure the council, city manager and police chief are putting out a consistent message.
Interim City Manager Renny Perry on Friday said city officials were still deciding how and where to place the links on vergennes.org.

REC SITE
Recreation and Programming Coordinator Kim Buckley told the council she had just gotten the recreation site up and running the week before after getting the green light in October from former City Manager Dan Hofman.
Buckley said she had planned to link up with the city site, but had not done so yet because she was waiting for council approval.
Buckley explained a new program used for the website.
“It gives us the ability to reserve surfaces, tennis courts, basketball courts, even the docks, and also for memberships for the pool,” she said. 
“It’s basically an all-in-one type of website where people can go to find everything they need about recreational opportunities, or any type of programming, really, in the city, what’s going on in the city green, what’s going on down by the falls.”
The city is eyeing a potentially costly fix of its docks on both sides of Otter Creek, which are popular with boaters who navigate the river from Lake Champlain. Vergennes officials have never charged for the use of the docks, including the power the city provides, reasoning it’s a good trade-off for the business boaters provide for city merchants. 
But increasingly they are considering the idea, especially with six-figure repairs or replacement of the docks looming. Buckley said the website could track room at the docks and payment for their use.
“It’s a good segue if you folks want to do any upgrades down there and you want to charge boats,” she said.
Perry and resident and former mayor Michael Daniels both cautioned the council to be careful not to turn away too many boaters, however. Rather than tie up to the docks, they said some tie up to each other or drop anchor below the falls. 
“Often they’re quite willing to do what we call rack up, or stack up, and pull alongside somebody else who’s already on the dock if something else isn’t available,” Daniels said.
Daniels also pointed out there were hoops to be jumped through before the city could start charging for dockage.
“The question is who’s going to be the gatekeeper?” he said. “Right now there’s nothing that identifies a particular space that is there, like Slip A, Slip B, Slip C.”
Buckley agreed having the ability to track and charge boaters was just a first step. 
“There’s still more to process with that,” she said. “This is opening the doors.”
Buckley also noted the program can collect emails and phone numbers that could be used to promote downtown businesses. 
“This also gives us a way of gathering those people’s information,” she said. “Maybe there’s a sidewalk sale that day, and we can blast (an email to) those people.”
Daniels agreed to work with the council to study how a charging system might work in the future. And councilors were happy with the recreation website.
“I’m excited to see it develop,” said Councilor Dickie Austin.

POLICE SITE
As it stands now vpdguardians.org contains a “Chief’s Message” with the department’s philosophy, and a series of subheads:
•  “Guardians,” a description of the department’s responsibilities and capabilities.
•  “Resources,” which further links to other county and state law enforcement and social service agencies and local and county social service nonprofits. 
•  “Initiatives,” listing Merkel’s, the department’s and its officers’ professional and personal qualifications, community involvements and programs.
•  “Employment,” describing working for the department and the needed qualifications. 
The council invited Merkel to the Nov. 24 meeting because some members recently said they were concerned about the lack of oversight on the website. 
Merkel acknowledged he had essentially launched it on his own. He said vpdguardians.org was about two years old, costs $180 a year to operate with volunteer IT help, and he was responsible for its content.
Merkel told the council he started it because he believed there was more information about the department that he wanted to get out to the public than was being transmitted by the city site.
“The information was deficient in what I thought was necessary to the community,” he said. 
Councilors had no issue with the site’s content, but agreed with a suggestion from Perry.
“I think what we could do is just have a link to the police department website,” Perry said. 
Merkel also agreed with the approach.
“That’s fine with me. I think it’s a good resource,” he said. “Once more people become more aware of it and start utilizing it … between the Facebook page and the website I think we have a pretty broad method getting information out.” 
Councilor Ian Huizenga asked if the chief would collaborate to make sure the police website “conforms with what the city’s views are.”
“I work for the city,” Merkel said. “That’s fine.” 

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