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Vergennes councilors earmark $84K for roof project and expect to do more infrastructure work

Vergennes City Hall

City Manager Ron Redmond presented the council with an overview of ongoing, planned and hoped-for projects, including: safety equipment for the fire department, roof and window upgrades for city hall, removal of old city-owned docks in the Otter Creek basin, replacement of a salt shed, several items for the recreation department, completion of the Vergennes Connector Loop Trail.

VERGENNES — At a recent meeting at which the Vergennes City Council reviewed a long list of infrastructure needs and wants, councilors made only one decision — to take $84,000 out of the city’s Water Tower Fund to put new roofing on Public Works Department buildings.

On Oct. 25 Public Works Director Jim Larrow told the council his department can get by with putting roofing and insulation just on the main public works building on Mechanic Street, a project with a price tag of roughly $57,000.

He said he made that recommendation because he believes the building and the carport next to it will have to be replaced within 10 or 15 years, and the extra $27,000 needed to replace the carport roof would be better spent elsewhere.

Larrow said the steel-sheathed main building is “deteriorating from the inside out” and is nearing the end of its useful life, as is the carport. He added the department is outgrowing the buildings.

“It’s served its purpose,” he said.

But councilors noted that Larrow admitted that department trucks and other equipment were left outside, even in bad weather. They said they believe putting a roof on both structures would protect both buildings while they’re still serviceable as well as prolong the life of equipment.

Councilors also approved an inspection of the main building to make sure it hasn’t developed mold, a measure to help ensure the safety of department workers.

They also noted the municipal Water Tower Fund — fed by cellphone companies who pay to use the city’s former downtown water tower to hang broadcast equipment — has plenty of money in it to cover roofing for both buildings.

ONGOING AND MORE

City Manager Ron Redmond presented the council with an overview of ongoing, planned and hoped-for projects.

Those included:

  • For the fire department, a compressor and air-pack filling station estimated at $49,000 and upgraded radios valued at $102,000. Officials are targeting Department of Homeland Security grants for those items.
  • For city hall, roof repairs at a cost of $79,000, with no funding source yet determined; $17,000 for new storm windows, with the Water Tower Fund to be tapped; and new front doors, for which Redmond said he is awaiting an estimate.
  • For the city-owned docks in the Otter Creek basin, $12,000 to remove the deteriorated docks on the west side, which officials have determined are too expensive to repair; and a yet-to-be-determined amount to apply a preservative to the docks on the Macdonough Drive side, which are in better condition.
  • For a long-planned salt-shed replacement project, an extra $43,500 in state funding to help pay for a project that ballooned in price from an original cost of about $321,000 to almost $539,000 for a new structure to house winter road materials. Those funds would help the city pay for its matching share of the higher grant that will help pay for the new building.
  • For the recreation department, several items. Redmond reported the city has three funding sources to tap to resurface and add elements to the city’s East Street skate park, a $12,238 project. Funds would come from a state Building and General Services Department grant worth 50% of the cost, $3,875 in donations, and the balance in the current budget.

The city has also applied for a $135,825 Vermont Outdoor Recreation Economic Collaborative grant, which when combined with $11,750 in city funding, would complete the Vergennes Connector Loop Trail, a walking path to run through the city and link all its parks.

Redmond also addressed the planned covered outdoor pavilion at the city’s East Street recreation park, an $859,000 project that is nearing completion of its first, $398,000 phase thanks to volunteers and a sizeable donation from Ferrisburgh’s Hoehl Foundation, which will also support the second, $358,000 phase.

ARPA FUNDING USE

Councilors also discussed how they could make use of $772,125 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funding the city has been awarded. Vergennes has received half of that funding already, and must decide how to use it all by the end of 2024 and actually spend it by the end of 2026.

There are many restrictions on its uses, but with water and wastewater projects on the permitted list, councilors are likely to dedicate much of it to the costly and badly needed city sewer system upgrade due soon.

The Vergennes-Panton Water District is also seeking a portion of the ARPA funding. District officials are planning upgrades, and among other things have noted many leaky pipes in Vergennes — particularly on Monkton Road. They plan to get back to the council by the end of the year with a concrete proposal.

Other potential ARPA funding uses for Vergennes: Replacing lost revenue from the city swimming pool that was closed or limited for much of the summer of 2020, and lost ticket revenue because police were instructed not to pull over drivers last year except in extreme cases.

Councilor David Austin made a pitch for a focus on infrastructure and making commitments sooner rather than later. He said project costs will go up, while inflation will chip away at the value of the ARPA funding at the same time.

“If the future they’re going to be more expensive, and the money that’s sitting in the bank is going to be worth less,” Austin said.

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