Home Commentary Barre Beat 9.25.14

Barre Beat 9.25.14


by Emily Kaminsky

recent telephone interview with Barre city manager Steve Mackenzie provides the focus for this issue’s Barre Beat.

Despite repair needs, the sky stops falling at the ice arena. The peeling paint ordeal at the city’s B.O.R. Ice Arena will have to remain unresolved through the winter. After the arena got a fresh coat of paint this year, it started to peel and fall off. The painting contractors claim they are not responsible—much to the city’s chagrin. What to do? With colder weather approaching, Mackenzie says a final repair to the paint with a new contractor will have to wait until early next summer. The city is working with that contractor “to do some panel testing, anyway, this winter,” he says. “That will give us plenty of time to observe and determine a solution before we have to repaint.” For now, apparently, skaters are safe: the peeling paint has for uncertain reasons stopped falling.

The Summer Street redevelopment project heats up as temperatures drop. The property at 1 Campbell Place in downtown Barre has now entered the demolition phase to make way for the Summer Street project, which will add new housing and office space to the downtown landscape. Mackenzie expects that the city will, as planned, acquire the Ormsby property on Keith Avenue by mid-October; the property is destined for a tear-down, to make way for additional city parking.

With an eye on keeping our water supply safe, the city continues to upgrade infrastructure. Mackenzie reports that the $700,000 Cobble Hill water main replacement project is finally under way, thanks to a 3 percent negative-interest state loan—effectively a 40 percent grant. The undertaking “will repair a trestle with structural integrity issues, eliminating a major vulnerability in Barre City’s water supply system,” says   Mackenzie. The project represents a much-needed investment, having been on the to-do list for 15 years.

The city takes extra steps to include citizen input in the budget process in hopes of a yes vote in March. The city’s Budget Committee is working with the city council to digest 150 responses to a budget-and-services survey that it sent out to community members recently. “We sent out 5,700 copies of the survey and put it online,” says Mackenzie. Although the response was limited and there were no “Aha!” moments, Mackenzie says, it was a productive process and the feedback will be used, together with input from city employees, in fashioning the 2015 budget. What’s the challenge for that budget? Mackenzie says, “It’s about how to continue providing the same services without a substantial increase in the tax rate.” While the city has worked hard to keep increases to or below 2.5 percent, he acknowledges that the recent “slew of tax stabilization agreements” hasn’t helped. Last year, the tax increase was due to the fact that the city had agreed to stabilize both the municipal and education rates. That left the city responsible for forwarding the education portion of the tax rate to the state without getting the revenue from properties to offset the expense. No matter, says Mackenzie. “Over the life of those agreements, we will realize significant revenues.” It’s an investment now for the future. In 10 years, someone’s going to come out looking like a hero.”

What’s it like to run a city without a director of public works or a planning director? It’s not easy, according to Mackenzie, but the city will manage. Barre is looking to fill the public works position recently vacated by retiring Reg Abare, and the planning position vacated earlier this year by Mike Miller, who is now with the city of Montpelier. While a candidate was lined up for the planning directorship, the hiring fell through, and Mackenzie says he needs to continue the search. What has it been like to run the City of Barre without Reg Abare and Mike Miller? “There’s more work to spread around to different staff. I’m imparting a load onto an already stretched-thin staff. But, with every change there are opportunities. In six months I’m confident we’ll be firing on all cylinders,” Mackenzie says.

Got a story to share? We’re queuing up intriguing stories about Barre and its people for upcoming Barre Beat columns. Please send your story ideas to The Bridge at editorial@montpelierbridge.com or 802-223-5112. Follow @BarreBeatVT and @TheBridgeVT on Twitter for regular updates on Barre and additional information. And if you’re coming to Barre, remember: we’ve got great water!