City Council Minutes 10-22-2019


OCTOBER 22, 2019


Mayor Jeff Fritz called the regular meeting to order at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall in the conference room. The agenda was amended to provide a corrected form for 4d. – Delinquent Tax Repayment Plan Proposal and information sheet on 6b. – Succession Planning Committee. Those in attendance were:

Mayor Jeff Fritz                                                Reporter Andy Kirkaldy

Deputy Mayor Lynn Donnelly                  Sierra Bertrand

Alderman David Austin                                Robert Trepanier

Alderman Mark Koenig                               Shannon Haggett

Alderman William Benton                         Rainwater Winterpainter

Alderman Lowell Bertrand                        Kathy Rossier

Alderman David Small                                  Police Chief George Merkel

City Manager Mathew Chabot                Patti Merkel

Assistant City Clerk Melissa Wright

VISITORS: No visitors were present.

WARRANTS: The Warrant totaling $267,818.56 was presented for review and signatures of approval.

MINUTES: Alderman Bertrand moved to approve minutes of the October 08, 2019 and October 15, 2019 meeting. That motion was seconded by Alderman Koenig. The minutes on October 8th were amended by Alderman Koenig to state he left the meeting at 6:15 p.m. A vote on the amended minutes were approved with all voting in favor.

GENERAL EXPENSES/VPD BUDGET REVIEW: City Manager Chabot presented changes in the FY2021 general fund budget to reflect an increase for Vergennes Area Rescue Squad of $1,564.00 and an increase in recreation funding of $500.00. City Manager Chabot presented a preliminary Vergennes Police Department budget for FY2021 that reflected an increase of $30,028. Alderman Benton asked about the change in the capital purchases line item being reduced by $20,000 City Manager Chabot advised he moved that $20,000 out of capital purchases and into a lease vehicle line item. Mayor Fritz inquired about health insurance cost. City Manager Chabot advised the deadline for open enrollment is December 31st and he still had one company he was waiting to hear from but felt that the City should continue with Blue Cross Blue Shield. He felt this was the best plan and that the City needs to continue to take care of their employees by offering great benefits to compensate for the lower wages paid by the City compared to other municipalities. City Manager Chabot will be proposing the insurance plan in the next few weeks. After preliminary budgets for each department, City Manager Chabot stated a total increase of $60,888 would be seen which will result in an increase in the property tax rate of 2.7 cents.

VLCT INITIATIVE FOR SELF GOVERNANCE: Alderman Koenig attended Town Fair in Montpelier last month and provided to the Council information he received from VLCT. The initiative is looking to decentralize decision making out of Montpelier and back into the communities. Alderman Koenig was in support of submitting a resolution showing support for the initiative. Alderman Small also supported the initiative. Alderman Austin made a motion for City Manager Chabot to prepare a resolution in support of the initiative for self governance. The motion was seconded by Alderman Bertrand with all voting in favor.

RESOLUTION IN SUPPORT OF THE MAYOR’S CHALLENGE TO END VETERANS HOMELESSNESS: City Mayor Fritz read the proclamation for the City of Vergennes publicly committing to work towards preventing and ending Veteran homelessness in our community. The proclamation was circulated and signed by all of the Council members.

DELINQUENT TAX REPAYMENT PLAN PROPOSAL: City Manager Chabot updated the Council on our current delinquent taxes which are $39,046 this year compared to $21,204 on August 30th. He handed out his proposed payment agreement form and is seeking to adopt a policy to enter into payment plans with delinquent taxpayers which would allow them to stay current. Alderman Koenig made a motion to adopt the policy. The motion was seconded by Alderman Austin. Deputy Mayor Donnelly asked if this still shows the penalty of 8%. City Manager Chabot advised yes and in addition interest on delinquent tax will still accrue at a rate of 1.5% per month. Rainwater Winterpainter asked if the City Manager thought this would be effective and what about possibly providing financial counseling. City Manager Chabot advised his position as the delinquent tax collector does not provide counseling but with a personalized interaction with the taxpayer and payment plan it may help encourage them to pay. Motion carried with all voting in favor.

CITY OF VERGENNES UNION NEGOTIATION COMMITTEE: Mayor Fritz advised Deputy Mayor Donnelly felt that City Manager Chabot and Peter Garon may not be appropriate representatives for the City in union negotiations due to negatively speaking out regarding the size of the police department, and their desire to cut two full-time officers, and the rising cost of the budget for that department. She stated she would be interested in representing the City moving forward in the negotiations. Mayor Fritz advised he spoke with VLCT and, by statues, union negotiations are part of a city manager’s job description so City Manager Chabot would need to continue on with the negotiations. Deputy Mayor Donnelly felt that the other side should be represented as well and that the City Council should be involved in the negotiations. Alderman Small asked the Deputy Mayor what she meant by the other side. Deputy Mayor Donnelly advised she supported keeping the current work staff and approved the budget for the police department and that both sides should be part of the negotiation process. Alderman Small stated the police union would be representing the police department so both sides are being represented. Deputy Mayor Donnelly asked how would this negotiation differ than the school board where the superintendent is part of the negotiation. Alderman Koenig advised the school board operates differently and that the City Manager has the role of representing the City. City Manager Chabot advised Peter Garon has many years of experience representing both sides in union negotiations and that is why he was appointed to assist. Alderman Austin felt that if Deputy Mayor Donnelly wanted to be on the Committee, it would be the City Manager’s call. Mayor Fritz advised, speaking with VLCT, best practices would be for the City Council not being involved in union negotiations unless the council felt that there were performance issues with the City’s representatives. Alderman Koenig advised City Manager Chabot and Peter Garon should continue with negotiations and if something comes up at a later date the City Council could reevaluate. Mayor Fritz advised the Council will be informed on a regular basis when information is available but at this time both sides have entered into a confidentiality agreement until mediation begins. City Manager Chabot advised there has been only one meeting and that meeting was just to establish ground rules. There are three police officers serving on the Committee, City Manager Chabot advised, and he will bring information on the Committee when it is available for him to do so. Rainwalker Winterpainter asked what is being negotiated with the union. City Manager Chabot advised he can not disclose any details at this time due to the confidentiality agreement.

RETIREMENT DATE SET FOR CITY CLERK/TREASURER: City Clerk/Treasurer Joan Devine announced her retirement date of February 28, 2020 in an email to the Council on October 17, 2019.

CITY MANAGER JOB POSTING AND JOB DESCRIPTION: Mayor Fritz advised he will be using the same posting and job description that was used last year except he did make a change in the salary range from $65,000-$85,000 to $75,000-$85,000. Mayor Fritz is looking to post the ad tomorrow, October 23rd , in various spots including the VLCT site and asked the City Council for $1,000 to cover advertising costs. He will be having the applicants respond with their cover letters and resumes to himself directly and was looking for two Council members to volunteer and help with the first round of interviews. Aldermen Koenig and Austin volunteered to assist the Mayor with the first round of interviews. Deputy Mayor Donnelly asked if they could ask people in the community who they feel may have qualifications such as management experience to apply. The Mayor advised “yes please do so”. Alderman Koenig made a motion authorizing $1,000 to be spent towards advertising. The motion was seconded by Alderman Austin with all voting in favor.

CHARTER DISCUSSION: Alderman Koenig advised he made a minor change to the City Charter that was in the Council packet. The City budget is not voted at Town Meeting but completed by the City Council before the start of the fiscal year. Deputy Mayor Donnelly asked about §15a-301(c) regarding terms of office for the Mayor and City Council members that stated three year terms instead of two year terms. Alderman Koenig advised he was looking at figuring out a way to avoid the potential of losing half of the council at an election. The Council advised this needs to have more discussion with all council members. Deputy Mayor Donnelly asked for clarification on §15a-404 and what codes of technical regulations were. Alderman Koenig advised he felt that had to do with zoning and ACT 250 and large files would be available at the clerk’s office for review. Deputy Mayor Donnelly did not see where the City Attorney was to be appointed; it was located in §15a-304.B10. Deputy Mayor Donnelly asked how the information stating vacant land shall be assessed at 120 percent of fair market value was determined. Alderman Koenig advised that actually was information from the City of Winooski’s Charter which is the charter being used to model our charter. Alderman Benton advised the information wasn’t correct and the whole paragraph should be deleted. Alderman Koenig asked Alderman Benton to look over the entire section for corrections. Once changes are made Mayor Fritz is looking to have the proposed charter available at the next council meeting on November 12th.

GREEN MOUNTAIN POWER BASIN FUND: City Manager Chabot advised the Council that money was available through our Green Mountain Power Coop Agreement to move the pedestrian bridge at the basin and to do related work necessary to have the bridge in a straighter line towards the basin stairway. He advised we could do withdrawals in increments of $10,000. Alderman Small asked if the project could be completed with $10,000, City Manager Chabot advised it could if the Department of Public Works does some preliminary work such as lay down pads. Alderman Bertrand made a motion to secure $10,000 for the project from the Green Mountain Coop account, seconded by Alderman Small, with all voting in favor.

RESIGNATION OF CITY MANAGER: City Manager Chabot announced he submitted his resignation on Tuesday, October 15th to the City Council. He wanted to thank everyone for their assistance this past year and for the opportunity to serve as City Manager. Mayor Fritz stated he was sad to see his departure but appreciated all the hard work.

LOCAL OPTION TAX: Mayor Fritz stated the Vergennes Partnership is continuing to work on moving forward on the local option tax. Alderman Benton spoke with Vergennes Partnership President Renny Perry who advised VLCT said it may be possible to qualify for a local option tax without having a charter change. Alderman Small asked why we may qualify without a charter change. City Manager Chabot stated it may be due to our downtown designation status but he will be reaching out to VLCT and will provide an update at the next Council meeting.

SUCCESSION PLANNING COMMITTEE: Mayor Fritz read the Charge to Mayoral Committee on Succession Planning. Mayor Fritz advised the committee was originally formed to look for the future City Clerk/Treasurer but the priority will be on filling the City Manager’s position. Alderman Koenig asked if the committee would also include department heads as they would also be transitioning out as well at some point. Alderman Small asked if this was a temporary or an ongoing committee. Mayor Fritz said it would be temporarily ongoing. Mayor Fritz advised the committee will have their first meeting next week. There is currently four members and they are looking for a fifth member; the Mayor will keep the Council updated but feels really good about moving forward.

VERGENNES ECONOMIC CORRIDOR UPDATE: Mayor Fritz stated we have overwhelming support on the project as far as the Town of Weybridge. The Town of Panton has some concerns with the project but Michael Winslow from Addison County Regional Planning attended one of their selectboard meetings and encouraged them to be in support of a study and during the study they could voice all their concerns. Shannon Haggett stated Addison County Regional Planning is continuing to move forward in support of the project.

CITIZEN’S COMMENTS: Shannon Haggett, Chair of the Planning Commission, advised the City of Vergennes was one of six communities picked for a case study on behalf of the Zoning for Great Neighborhoods. The focus of this work will be on the walkable neighborhoods (the downtowns, villages and surrounding neighborhoods) and on incrementally improving the bylaws to encourage a variety of housing types. Shannon Haggett will be attending the study with Peter Garon and Timothy Cook on November 4th. Andy Kirkaldy inquired about the Town of Ferrisburgh and boundary discussions with the City of Vergennes and if that could affect the Vergennes Economic Corridor project. Mayor Fritz advised it could affect the project but the goal is to get the study approved and during the study any communities could voice whatever concerns they may have.

ADJOURNMENT: At 6:40 p.m. Alderman Bertrand moved to adjourn the regular meeting, seconded by Alderman Benton, with all voting in favor.

Respectfully submitted,

Assistant City Clerk