VERGENNES — Vergennes aldermen on Tuesday revealed a 0.6-acre North Main Street parcel that is the former home of Vergennes Auto Sales as their choice on which to build a new station for the city’s police department.
Vergennes officials said they have discussed purchasing the land with its owner, but discussed details Tuesday only behind closed doors at the end of their open session.
They also acknowledged the lot is too small to accommodate the 6,076-square-foot station aldermen are considering, and that the city would have to buy more land from Vermont Industrial Parks, which owns a 14.4-acre parcel that borders the 0.6-acre lot to the north and west.
Vermont Industrial Parks is a company owned by Middlebury’s Carrara family, owner of the Carrara & Sons Inc. concrete company.
City Manager Mel Hawley said the Carraras were not interested in simply selling an acre of land to the city because they would lack road frontage for their larger lot, but a recent meeting about a smaller purchase went well.
“They’re not interested in losing 200 feet of frontage, but they’ll work with the city if the city needs some additional frontage,” Hawley said.
In the meantime, he said talks with the owner of the smaller parcel — which meets the site-search criteria of not being in a residential neighborhood and having good access to a major road — have gone well, and a purchase and sale agreement is now undergoing legal review.
“There certainly is an understanding, if you will, about that,” Hawley told aldermen.
Vergennes aldermen agreed on Oct. 23 to adopt a 6,076-square-foot, 24-room building as a working model for a new police station, and they set a Nov. 27 public informational meeting to explain to residents why city officials believe the building is necessary and to hear feedback. That meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the basement of the Vergennes fire station on Green Street.
The only cost estimate aldermen have discussed publicly assumed construction on a city-owned parcel off New Haven Road. That estimate came in at $1.78 million, including about $440,000 for site development and a garage that officials said might not be built immediately.
Hawley said in October that a parcel like the North Main Street parcel would have far lower development costs, but that purchase costs would have to be added into the equation.
Aldermen Tuesday only briefly talked funding, although they had a printout with different scenarios if an entire $1.75 or $2 million cost was paid with a bond.
Hawley said, for example, the cheapest bond option was $1.75 million for 20 years. Payments would be $136,700 a year, which would require a 7-cent hike in the city tax rate to support.
In October, Hawley said another scenario for a $2 million bond would require a 9-cent hike.
But aldermen are considering different ways to pay, including using the city’s Water Tower Fund. That fund, fed by cellphone companies who pay to hang broadcast equipment on the city’s former water tower, now nets about $94,700 a year. Those funds could be used to effectively reduce bond payments by an equivalent of almost 5 cents on the city tax rate, officials said.
Alderman Bill Benton said he didn’t believe simply asking residents to pay higher taxes for the full cost is “going to fly,” and he suggested the council be creative.
“There are a lot of options out there,” Benton said.
Mayor Michael Daniels agreed there were other ways to approach funding. He said several citizens concerned with the price tag of the working proposal have approached him, but he encourages them to learn more and come to the Nov. 27 presentation.
“I keep reminding them they need to get all the information … We would not want anyone to prejudge the outcome of the building,” Daniels said. “Give it a full chance. Hear it out.”
The mayor also pledged that aldermen would be keeping their own minds open and be responsive to public input.
“If something needs to be changed, it will be,” Daniels said.
All city officials agree the department’s tiny two-room office in City Hall is inadequate, and that the department’s workload has increased: The department made 150 arrests and responded to more than 2,000 complaints in the past year, both annual highs for the force, according to Hawley in October.
Police Chief George Merkel told aldermen in October that the proposed building does not have frills.
The working plan includes an “operations” side with two rooms to interview suspects, two cells, a separate juvenile holding area, a booking area, a sally port, an armory and a storage area.
Merkel said that area is securely divided from the other side that has a separate interview room for victims and informants; men’s and women’s locker rooms; a patrol room that can accommodate 10 officers; offices for the chief, a sergeant and a detective; a fitness room; a training room; evidence storage; a lobby; an intake/administrative/room; and records and information technology/phone system rooms.
Hawley said there would also be ongoing costs once the building is built, including heating fuel, electricity, insurance, trash hauling, and upkeep.
“Obviously there is an operating cost associated with this building,” Hawley said. “It’s going to cost a penny (on the tax rate) to operate this building.”
Aldermen plan to provide floor plans, additional cost information, funding options, and an explanation on the need for the building at the Nov. 27 meeting.
“We would hope to have more at that meeting,” Daniels said.
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected]