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A Message from City Hall: Reopening!
william

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June is here! In years past the excitement of the coming summer was palpable at this time of year. Graduations, the Mountaineers, the farmers market and Saturday mornings downtown, Brown Bag lunch concerts, Lost Nation Theater season, July 3rd celebration, days at the pool or Wrightsville or any number of other swimming holes — all being eagerly anticipated.

Last summer’s activities, of course, were fully lost to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even family gatherings and vacations were curtailed due to the deadly virus. Summer, for most, of us consisted of weekend walks with immediate family members or something similar.

Now here comes the summer of 2021. I feel a strong collective desire to resume traditional summer activities and plans. But I also feel a strong undercurrent of unease. How safe will we be? How much can we actually do?

Here’s what we know — Vermont is among the national leaders in vaccination rates. Our death rates, case rates, and hospitalization rates are among the lowest in the country. We live in one of the safest places with regard to the coronavirus. 

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What we don’t know is the impact of out-of-state visitors and Vermonters traveling out of state. How can we feel confident that other people with whom we are sharing space are protected?

Balancing the desire for “normalcy” and the need for caution has been the focus of the city government as we consider our plans for reopening city services. The safety of both the public and our employees is central to our thinking while we restore access to services that residents need and desire.

City Mask Mandate

Under the authority of the governor’s emergency declaration, the city council issued an order last spring requiring that masks be worn indoors in all buildings or spaces open to the public. This order remains in effect. The council has voted to end the order on June 15 unless they receive new information at their meeting of June 9 that convinces them otherwise. The order will also end before June 15 if the governor rescinds the state of emergency.

The council chose June 15 in order to allow more time for people to become fully vaccinated, particularly those younger individuals. It also allows businesses time to plan and to make their own decisions. Remember, any individual business may continue to require the wearing of masks in their stores or offices if they choose. We’ve all seen “no shirts, no shoes, no service” signs. Businesses are well within their rights to say “no masks, no service.”

City Buildings

All city buildings will be reopening on Tuesday, July 6. This date was selected based on the governor’s initial comments that the state would end all restrictions after July 4. Although there has been great progress in Vermont and this date may move to mid June, the city is, for now, staying with a July 6 reopening.

There are a couple of key reasons for this date. By July 6, all city employees and the vast majority of their family members will have had ample opportunity to become vaccinated and complete the two-week waiting period. The same goes for community residents. This will create the safest possible environment for all when we do reopen. 

Second, this allows the city time to evaluate and enact other safety precautions and requirements.  Considerations include requiring masks for all non-vaccinated employees and members of the public who enter city buildings. We may consider mask requirements for direct interactions with the public. Additionally, we will continue to provide services on line as we have done throughout the pandemic.

Public Meetings

Public meetings will also change. Virtual meetings have been permitted during the state of emergency but we will return to some form of in-person sessions. We have noticed, however, that the virtual features have allowed more people to participate and are, perhaps, more convenient for some residents. It certainly eases travel issues for many participants. On the other hand, those without easy access to the internet can be left out of community conversations.

The full design of in-person meetings is still under consideration. Issues such as capacity limits, masks, vaccinated vs. unvaccinated, seat spacing, and the like need to be worked out. We are also looking at possible technological options to provide for both in-person and remote attendance at the same meeting.  

Pool

The Montpelier city pool will be operating slightly differently this year but will be open. The most important updates are:

  • Pool hours are approximate and will be dependent on available and trained lifeguard staff and may change as needed
  • The pool house, one of the rafts, and one-fourth of the pool’s swimming area are reserved for the city’s summer camp program to keep our summer camp youths separated to align with our licensure requirements for the program and to keep vulnerable unvaccinated youths physically distanced from others
  • In deference to the summer camp program, and to keep unvaccinated youths safe, the city is requesting visitors wear masks when not actively swimming.
  • Daily pool pass prices have changed slightly — see the chart in the FAQs.

Other information can be found in the FAQ section on the city’s website www.montpelier-vt.org or by calling the Recreation Department at 802-225-8699.

Senior Center

Montpelier Senior Activity Center will have a soft reopening in June, additional programs in person starting in July, and many programs continuing online and outdoors all summer. The MSAC and FEAST staff and volunteers are working hard preparing for the next phase of our gradual and safe re-opening. State and city COVID guidelines will continue to be followed regarding masking, etc., and we are transitioning to self-screening for COVID symptoms and temperatures. Two dozen spring classes are happening on Zoom and outdoors currently, along with weekly FEAST meal service and bimonthly foot care clinics at MSAC. On June 14, MSAC starts registration (online, by mail, and drop-off) for 34 weekly summer class series (July-September) offered online, in-person at 58 Barre Street, and outdoors at a variety of locations including Hubbard Park, Green Mount Cemetery, and others. In late June, MSAC will host selected returning drop-in groups and the annual membership meeting indoors (and via Zoom video/phone), while other groups remain outdoors. During the week of July 5–9, summer classes start, as will FEAST curbside picnic inside-outside options on Tuesdays and Fridays. We are looking at the possibility of a few senior van trips starting in August or September. To stay updated, subscribe for free to our weekly e-letter by emailing msac@montpelier-vt.org. Visit our website at www.montpelier-vt.org/msac or call 223-2518 for more information!

Federal ARPA Funds

Based on the council discussion this week, the city staff is using a working outline for the incoming $2.158 million in federal funds. Reminder: we will receive $1.079 million this year and another $1.079 million next year. 

1. Replace lost public sector revenue, using this funding to provide government services to the extent of the reduction in revenue experienced due to the pandemic. Revenue replacement funds will be used for projects and equipment that were deferred as a result of the FY20 and FY21 budget mitigation plans. This totals $1.5 million.

This includes paving, road maintenance, sidewalks and other infrastructure work which was delayed due to lost revenues. 

2. The remaining $600,000 can be used for:  

  •  Support of public health expenditures, by funding COVID-19 mitigation efforts, medical expenses, behavioral healthcare, and certain public health and safety staff; 
  • Address negative economic impacts caused by the public health emergency, including economic harms to workers, households, small businesses, impacted industries, and the public sector;
  • Provide premium pay for essential workers, offering additional support to those who have borne and will bear the greatest health risks because of their service in critical sectors; 
  • Invest in water, sewer, and broadband infrastructure, making necessary investments to improve access to clean drinking water, support vital wastewater and stormwater infrastructure, and expand access to broadband internet.

3. Monitor for state funding and/or additional federal infrastructure funding for water/sewer/stormwater infrastructure. Potentially assign a portion of the remaining $600,000 for water/sewer projects unless other funds are available.

4. Conduct a public process, possibly including city committees, for suggestions for uses of funds consistent with the guidelines listed above.

Council Meeting Schedule

Due to the summer season and individual schedules, the city council has adopted summer meeting dates that do not match the usual second and fourth Wednesday routine. Regular council meetings will be held on:

  • June 9, starting at 7:15 p.m. instead of the usual 6:30 p.m.
  • June 16
  • July 21
  • August 18
  • August 25

The traditional schedule will resume in September.

Thank you for reading this article and for your interest in Montpelier. Please feel free to contact me or your elected officials with questions or comments about the city government. I can be reached at wfraser@montpelier-vt.org or 802-223-9502.