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City Council moves meeting times

VERGENNES — Vergennes City Council meetings will begin at 6 p.m. for the foreseeable future following a vote taken at the council’s Tuesday, three-hour-and-45-minute, March 23, meeting.
In recent years the council has been meeting at 5:30 p.m., a change made several years ago from the panel’s centuries old traditional 7 p.m. time.
The change will take effect for a series of April and May meetings at which the council will begin discussing the Vergennes Fiscal Year 2022 budget.
On April 13, councilors will look at the city’s public works budget, and on April 27 they will examine parks and recreation spending.
On May 11, the council will turn its attention to sewer and fire department budgets, and on May 27, its focus will be on police spending.
The council must set annual spending and the municipal tax rate necessary to support it by the end of June.
The debate on meetings’ start time — at a Zoom meeting attended by 57 city elected officials and committee members, official guests presenting on upcoming projects, and citizens — focused on the best hour to maximize attendance.
Longtime city representative to the Addison County Solid Waste Management District Cheryl Brinkman lobbied the council for a later start time for those, like her, who work nine-to-five and commute to out-of-town jobs. “I just got home,” Brinkman said during a discussion that began at 6 p.m.
Councilor David Austin said residents have lobbied him for a later start, and he suggested 7 p.m.
“We serve for the benefit of the people who put us in office,” Austin said.
Councilor Dickie Austin suggested 6:30 or 7 p.m. because 5:30 p.m. “only works for people working exactly in town.”
But Councilors Jill Murray-Killon and Ian Huizenga, both of whom have young children, said a later start could be difficult if a meeting drags on.
“Seven or 7:30 is way too late for me,” Murray-Killon said.
Councilor Mel Hawley — prophetically, given how long Tuesday’s meeting ended up running — suggested the 6 p.m. compromise that all eventually agreed upon.
“I don’t want to think about working until 10 or 10:30 p.m.,” Hawley said.
In other business, the council:
• Heard a presentation from Otter Creek Engineering civil engineer Brent Rakowski about a design for proposed winter materials building to replace the existing decrepit shed off Canal Street. The council has approved up to $65,000 to match what could be a $325,000 project funded 80% by a federal grant.
Rakowski described the building, which could be built in two or three years, as a “fabric-covered steel structure with pre-cast blocks” that resembles the town of Addison’s. It will be erected near the existing shed.
• Agreed to set aside three School Street parking spaces to allow Hired Hand Brewery to use them as outdoor seating for its customers, as it did in 2020.
Hawley objected to allowing city property to be used for a private venture. Hawley said his objection was specific to public parking, and he had had no problem with outside seating in the city’s right of way provided there is no obstruction to pedestrian traffic. Other councilors — including Murray-Killon and Dickie Austin — and a few residents said the city should act to support small businesses during the pandemic. Councilors — except business owner Ian Huizenga, who abstained — voted in favor, except Hawley.
• Declined a request from the Citizen’s Review Board Exploratory Committee (it is studying whether the city should form some sort of police advisory panel) to formally re-affirm its charge and reappoint its members.
After a brief discussion, councilors concluded the action was not necessary and the panel had their backing.
“I’m hearing the council generally supports the charge and encourages the committee to continue its work,” said Mayor Matt Chabot.
• After a lengthy discussion, approved modest increases in some zoning application fees recommended by Zoning Administrator Peter Garon, including correcting an oversight that left him unable to charge fees for applications for new signs.
• After another lengthy discussion, backed a request from the city’s Parks and Recreation Committee for $7,250 from the city Watershed Fund to pay for an archaeological study on city land that state officials said was required for a grant application.
The committee hopes to complete a trail from New Haven Road across city land and the area known as the “outdoor classroom” near city schools’ athletic fields. Members hope it will eventually be part of a larger trail that will loop through all of the city, including across school land.
Rec committee members assured councilors that school officials were on board with the plan, and the funds could be used as part of the eventual local match toward the state grant. Council support was unanimous.
• Appointed Matt Hawes and Jeremy Holm to the Parks and Recreation Committee and Beverly Biello to the Board of Auditors. 

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