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Vergennes mulls street-paving and sidewalk projects

VERGENNES — Unknowns ran through Tuesday’s Vergennes City Council discussion — its first — on the upcoming Fiscal Year 2022 budget, which the council will set by June 30 for the following 12 months.
But it was clear councilors and Public Works Supervisor Jim Larrow were determined to get more roads paved and sidewalks fixed during the upcoming year, and even before then.
Larrow told the council that he has enough money left in his current FY 2021 budget to pay for paving of a number of short city streets before June 30, including Scovil Lane; Green Meadow and Hillside acres; Union, Prospect and Elm streets; and Meadowbrook and Bowman roads.
Larrow added he would ask his crew this summer to redo the sidewalk on School Street between Main and East streets, and then told the Independent on Wednesday he hoped to patch the worst small sidewalk stretches throughout the city as much as time and budget constraints permitted.
At the Tuesday meeting Larrow presented a draft public works budget that called for a $70,000 increase in his department’s FY 2022 spending to $913,173, all of which would come from a purchase of a new dump truck.
Larrow noted, however, that increase would be offset on the revenue side by the $25,000 to $30,000 sale or trade-in of the city’s existing 2014 truck.
His budget included more spending on sidewalks and paving, but some members of the council — notably Mel Hawley — asked if those increases should be even higher given the city’s $300,000 surplus from FY 2020.
And then the unknowns came in. Councilors wondered if the councilors could put some of the $756,000 it was awarded under the American Rescue Plan toward paving and sidewalks, or use it to offset FY 2022 spending and thus lower taxes.
The question also came up if the infrastructure bill now being debated in Congress would offer more help.
Generally, councilors agreed, as Councilor Dickie Austin put it, they were “waiting for clarity” on how the American Rescue Plan money could be used, or if more help might be on the way.
And City Manager Ron Redmond said one clear designated use of those or future funds was for water and sewer projects, and that money would be helpful there.
Redmond said he expects the city to be seeking federal and state aid within three to five years for a roughly $15 million rebuild of the city’s stormwater and wastewater collection system and wastewater treatment plant.
Redmond also outlined a number of other budget priorities: deferred maintenance at the fire station; body cameras and community statistics collection for the police; deferred maintenance and a sidewalk survey for public works; improvements to Veterans Park, more programs, and work on the loop trail for the recreation department; and interim repairs for the sewer department.
Ultimately, councilors took Mayor Matt Chabot’s advice that June would allow for more informed discussion on spending, especially a better sense of how they can use the federal help.
“When we get to budget discussions … we’ll have that information in front of us,” Chabot said.

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