City Council Minutes 10-10-2017


October 10, 2017


Mayor Michael Daniels called the regular meeting to order at 5:30 p.m. at the Vergennes Fire Station. The Pledge of Allegiance was recited. At the request of Alderman Donnelly item f.1 was added to the agenda; private sewer connections. Those in attendance were:


Mayor Michael Daniels                                      City Clerk Joan Devine

Senior Alderman Renny Perry                       Elise Shanbacker

Alderman Mathew Chabot                              Samantha Dunn

Alderman Mark Koenig                                     Robert Trepanier

Alderman Lowell Bertrand                             Sarah Stroup

Alderman Jeffrey Fritz                                     Andy Kirkaldy

Alderman Lynn Donnelly                               Michelle Eckels

City Manager Mel Hawley

VISITORS:  Samantha Dunn, Developer at Housing Vermont, and Elise Shanbacker, Executive Director at Addison County Community Trust (ACCT), were present to discuss additional housing they would like to build on Armory Lane. Samantha reported Vermont Housing and ACCT partnered in 2012 to build the 25-unit senior housing complex on Armory Lane. They are now investigating the possibility of building 20 to 25 units of mixed-income housing on Lot 2 that is owned by Housing Vermont, she reported. Elise Shanbacker advised they have 67 people on their senior housing waiting list and 87 others. She went on to report that the rental vacancy in Addison County is between 1 and 2 percent so there definitely is a need for more housing. To get this project built will require access to Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) funds, she stated, and is aware of the 2007 resolution that was adopted by the City Council regarding affordable housing developments in the city. Samantha Dunn inquired if there has been any change with that position. Senior Alderman Perry explained, back in 2007 when he was the City Manager, the City Council was against taking taxable property off the tax roles and felt the City had its fair share of affordable housing. Mayor Daniels advised the City Council felt these properties were a financial hardship. Elise Shanbacker reported this project will be new construction so the current appraised value of their land at $135,000 could increase to approximately $1,000,000; their property taxes of $3,000 could potentially increase to $20,000. City Manager Hawley advised he was not the City Manager when the resolution was adopted so he does not know what brought the City Council to that action but he could help explain affordable housing’s impact on our tax base. He advised residential rental properties that are subject to a rental housing subsidy covenant imposed by the funding agencies must be appraised annually using the income approach. Owners of these properties are required to submit their financial information as it relates to rental income and expenses to qualify. These properties also receive a 10 percent reduction in education taxes based on the reduced value. Eligible owner-occupied homes receive a 25 percent reduction of their value if there is an associated housing subsidy covenant. There are about ten properties that have a rental housing subsidy covenant of which only three properties are valued with this method because the remaining properties do not submit their financial information as required. Manager Hawley, who also provides administrative support to the Board of Listers, advised the real problem is the law and felt the resolution might not have been an appropriate strategy. Senior Alderman Perry stated, on a personal basis, he was surprised with the reaction of a resolution. Now he sees it as the City receiving more revenue or the property will remain undeveloped. The city needs housing, he advised, and yes, the city already has its fair share of affordable housing. Mixed-income housing will bring mixed-aged residents, he advised, if we approve the CDBG application. Samantha Dunn reported they just finished doing a survey with residents at the senior housing to see what needs might be incorporated into the new building as they want to serve as many senior citizens as possible. Elise Shanbacker reported they will also need to take advantage of low income tax credits to finance the project. HUD funding has been level-funded or cut and can only subsidize those senior housing units that are already in existence, she stated, so there are no funds for new construction of exclusive senior housing. They want to help as many seniors as possible but this building will not be age restrictive. The building has to be ADA accessible and SASH compliant and will contain mostly one-bedroom units, a few two-bedroom units, and one three-bedroom unit. The current resolution on the agenda and will be discussed later in the meeting.

MINUTES:  Alderman Lowell Bertrand moved to approve the minutes of September 26, 2017. The motion was seconded by Senior Alderman Perry. On the last page under ‘Comments’ the first sentence was corrected to read, ‘Senior Alderman Perry reported that the first “Eat on the Green” event is on Saturday from 3:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m.’ A vote on the motion with the correction showed all voting in favor.

WARRANT: The Warrant, totaling $290,496.98, was circulated for review and signatures of approval. City Manager Hawley pointed out payments on the bonds for the fire trucks and the police station are included in this Warrant.

CITIZENS COMMENTS:  Michelle Eckels requested an update on the pool caulking their Committee recommended be accomplished before winter. City Manager Hawley reported he met with a representative of Pease Construction Services who will be providing a quote. Nicom Coatings Corp said they are swamped and have not gone to the site yet. He would love to bring two quotes to the City Council soon. Sarah Stroup felt the Council was dishonoring the major volunteer effort because she never sees follow-up to their work. Over the past 5-6 months she has heard that the improvements would be done and respectfully requests the work be done. Sarah Stroup went on to thank the City Clerk, the employees at City Hall, and Vergennes Rescue Squad for their assistance regarding a child that was bitten by a dog at the “Eat on the Green” event. She asked the City Council to encouraged people to leave their pets at home for such public events. City Manager Hawley advised the City Green Usage Policy currently does not prohibit dogs on the City Green but the policy can change. He then reported the swimming pool fund ended the season with a surplus of about $14,000.00, and that he is in the process of getting quotes for some of the repairs recommended. Filter covers showed evidence of failure so these will be replaced (64 covers at about $30 each). Senior Alderman Perry advised he did not see the person promoting “rescue dogs” on the City Green but was told they had a booth set up. They will be critiquing the event soon, he advised, and it was good to know that they can control use on the City Green when they have reserved the space.

COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT BLOCK GRANT (CDBG) RESOLUTION:  Alderman Lynn Donnelly moved to rescind the resolution adopted by the City Council in 2007 and to support the Community Development Block Grant application. Alderman Lowell Bertrand seconded the motion with all voting in favor.

DONATION TO FRONT PORCH FORUM:  Senior Alderman Perry moved to donate $100 to Front Porch Forum. The motion was seconded by Alderman Bertrand. City Clerk Devine reported she recommended the $100 donation as she uses Front Porch Forum on a regular basis to notify the public of taxes due, dog registrations, special meetings and projects that will have an impact on the community. Mayor Daniels reported he also has used Front Porch Forum on several occasions. Andy Kirkaldy, a reporter for the Addison County Independent newspaper questioned whether it was appropriate to donate taxpayer dollar to a for-profit company. A vote on the motion showed all voting in favor. Alderman Matt Chabot requested a link to the agenda for Council Meetings be included in notices on Front Porch Forum.

DONATION TO GREEN UP VERMONT:  Alderman Lowell Bertrand moved to donate $150 to Green Up Vermont based on their recommended schedule based on population. Alderman Matt Chabot seconded the motion with all voting in favor. Alderman Mark Koenig moved to appoint Lowell Bertrand as the Town Coordinator for Green Up Day which will be on May 5, 2018. The motion was seconded by Alderman Jeff Fritz with all voting in favor.

LOCAL OPTION TAXES:  Mayor Daniels stated the City will need funds to do the projects in our Downtown-Basin Master Plan and the local option tax should be considered. City Manager Hawley advised the voters would have to approve a local option tax and an amendment to the City Charter before it could be submitted to and approved by the Legislature. There are three kinds of tax, he advised: sales and use, meals and alcoholic beverages, and rooms. Manager Hawley advised they looked at this many years ago and the net to the City was approximately $100,000 and was met with some opposition. There are over 20 communities that have implemented the one percent local option tax. Senior Alderman Perry advised this was discussed when he was the City Manager and was rejected. It may not be as shocking now, he stated. They obtained numbers from the tax department and one of the major industries in the city would be heavily impacted so the idea was let go. He felt it was worth looking at again in his opinion. Mayor Daniels advised he was looking at the City Council for guidance. City Manager Hawley stated he felt we had to be specific about which tax would apply and if the proceeds from the tax would be project specific like they did in the Town of Middlebury. Senior Alderman Perry stated we could be more prudent and have it project specific based but it will still offset taxes in the long-run. Manager Hawley advised the one percent local rooms and meals tax will affect our restaurants and bed and breakfasts while the one percent sales and use tax will affect everyone. Mayor Daniels suggested this topic remain on the agenda for further study and discussion and other members concurred.

SEWER RATE INCREASE:  City Manager Hawley explained the two categories of billing for the sewer fund. Those billed on a measured basis consist of schools and businesses that have high water usage such as the laundromat, Northlands Job Corps, UTC, etc. The base monthly fee covers up to 6,000 gallons and they are charged an excess gallonage fee beyond using metered readings provided by Vergennes-Panton Water District. The total billing for all units last fiscal year was $652,005. Manager Hawley advised the projected deficit has been discussed at the last couple meetings and the City Council can act on this now or wait three months. Alderman Donnelly felt the rates should be raised now. She requested a stuffer with the billing that would help educate the community about flushing rags and the damage it is doing to our sewer pumps. Alderman Lynn Donnelly moved to raise the sewer rates from $96 per quarter to $106 per quarter retroactive to October 1, 2017. Alderman Chabot seconded the motion followed by discussion.

Resident Robert Trepanier questioned where we stand on collection of delinquent sewer assessments. Delinquent Tax Collector Mel Hawley advised we are making some progress but those funds have already been counted at 100 percent of value; it will not bring in new money but would help with cash flow. Mr. Trepanier then asked about tax exemptions and who received them. City Manager Hawley explained there are ten qualified veterans that receive a voter-approved $40,000 reduction on their appraised value. The City has to recapture 75 percent of the reduced education taxes on those properties with the local rate. Vergennes Area Rescue Squad and the Vergennes Masonic Association are properties that the voters approved for tax exemption but the City only has to recapture lost education taxes with the local rate regarding the property owned by Vergennes Masonic Association.

Senior Alderman Perry was not sure if it was better to increase the sewer $40 a year and stay at that rate for 5 years or should the City Council consider $20 a year for a few years and then raise it another $20. Alderman Jeff Fritz supported the $40 increase and felt if the City Council did not move now it could require an $80 increase. Alderman Donnelly felt a $10 increase per quarter was a better way to report the increase to residents. Alderman Koenig expressed concern that this increase will prove out to be not sufficient for five years. City Manager Hawley felt the City Council should be able to maintain a $718,000 annual budget for the next five years at which time the bond will be paid off. A vote on the motion showed all voting in favor except Senior Alderman Perry who was opposed.

PRIVATE SEWER CONNECTIONS:  Alderman Lynn Donnelly thanked Manager Hawley for his time researching the land records looking for a sewer easement for a property on South Maple Street that was never found. She advised her real estate office is handling the sale of this property and they are going to be able to get an easement from the current property owner, she advised, so it is not going to be a problem for them. But, she stated, older properties tend to have sewer lines that run across neighboring properties and easements cannot always be found. She provided a copy of Section 14 of the Sewer Ordinance that defines “Public Sewer” as “…a sewer in which all owners of abutting properties have equal rights, and is controlled by public authority.” She wanted the City to make claim to all these type lines. City Manager Hawley reported he consulted with Attorney Ouimette who had a conflict of interest because he represented some of the parties involved but felt the Ordinance should be clarified. Senior Alderman Perry did not feel the City has the authority to say that when it is a private line on private property; he questioned if the City could legally do this to grant that relief. Mayor Daniels stated it was not a ‘public sewer’; it is a private sewer line until it connects to the City’s sewer main. He advised the City Council may need a legal opinion on this so this will be put on the next agenda.

SANDWICH BOARD AND TEMPORARY SIGNS: Senior Alderman Perry reported he is in the process of writing this complex matter. He has considered it as a City Council policy but has decided to write it as an ordinance. He said it will be ready for the next meeting.

CITY MANAGER’S REPORT:  City Manager Hawley reported he contacted Addison County Regional Planning regarding a traffic study for North Street and there are no funds available. The signage does need to be improved and tree limbs need trimming, he advised. The Macdonough Drive pump station overflow study he wanted to apply for cannot be submitted at this time. He learned that an application for municipal planning funds involving wastewater has to be approved by the Agency of Natural Resources before it can be submitted so there was not enough time to meet the October 2nd deadline. He did report the City was successful in obtaining a grant for $37,500 from VTrans for the rectangular flashing lights.

MAYOR’S REPORT:  Mayor Daniels reported the truck traffic issue is back on the table and he has a meeting coming up soon. Also, he advised, Pumpkins in the Park has been scheduled for Saturday, October 28th, on the City Green.

ADJOURNMENT:  At 7:34 p.m. Alderman Lowell Bertrand moved to adjourn the meeting. The motion was seconded by Alderman Jeff Fritz with all voting in favor.

Respectfully submitted,

Vergennes City Clerk