When it comes to infrastructure, transportation, and housing, the three new leaders who have come on the job this year in Barre see similarity to the challenges facing local governments across the country and specifically in the communities of the central Vermont region. They note that cooperation and collaboration with nearby communities and the organizations that serve them is essential in planning for the future.
All three bring fresh eyes and considerable experience to their key positions in Barre’s city government. New mayor Jacob “Jake” Hemmerick, who was elected in March, moved to Barre in 2019. Police Chief Braedon “Brad” Vail also came on the job in March after 29 years in the police department at Hartford, Vermont, where he rose through the ranks to serve as chief.
A priority for Hemmerick is drafting a new strategic plan for the city, noting that the newly hired city manager will bring precisely the skill set and experience that is needed. He also believes that with former mayor, lifelong resident, and developer Thomas Lauzon serving on the current city council, the perspective of the city’s history and that of long-term residents will be strongly represented as plans are developed.
The New City Manager
Earlier this month, when Nicolas “Nick” Storellicastro walked through the door into the office long occupied by retiring city manager Steve MacKenzie, he stepped into a municipal service job that he had envisioned as a graduate student more than a decade ago. He and Hemmerick share backgrounds in community planning and management.
Storellicastro has an extensive and diverse background in public service after earning a master of public administration degree from the State University of New York at Albany in 2008. His budgeting, planning, and administrative experience includes work at the statewide level in New York’s legislature and Department of Education. Since 2017 he has held budgeting and planning positions in New York City’s Department of Education. Most recently he managed the city’s sprawling school bus services as the chief financial and administrative officer overseeing the budget, procurement, policy, and risk assessment for a $1.5 billion program operating thousands of school bus routes with 2,000 employees through a nonprofit corporation.
Coming to Barre brings Storellicastro closer to the focus of his graduate work: finance and local government. Barre may be a small community compared with the Big Apple, but it involves managing the full scope of municipal services — planning, budgeting, and administering the city’s personnel, facilities, public works, community development, and public relations.
Hemmerick notes that restoring and upgrading infrastructure — from crumbling pavement and aging sewer and water treatment facilities to climate change preparations — is a priority for local governments across the United States. Barre and Montpelier, with Berlin as a physical interface between them, share layers of overlapping concerns.
Housing and transportation challenges are also among the current and future issues Barre’s new leadership wants to address. Storellicastro personally encountered the difficulty of finding housing in the current, exceptionally tight market. Because his contract requires living in the city where he works, Storellicastro anticipates closing soon on a Barre home with his wife Allison and two school-age boys. “At first the boys weren’t too excited about moving to a small town. But once they spent some time, went swimming at the pool, they’re very excited to come here,” Storellicastro said.
Can You Get There from Here?
With the area’s only hospital and major shopping centers between them, traffic between the two cities across the Barre-Montpelier Road and over Hospital Hill is a significant indicator of both commuter travel for work and consumer activity. Rising fuel prices and the growing concern about the impact of fossil fuel use are also matters Hemmerick and Storellicastro expect to address in their planning.
Green Mountain Transit currently provides scheduled service between Barre and Montpelier, while the My Ride experiment with transportation services “on demand” now operates only within Montpelier and the commercial and hospital area of Berlin. Affordable, convenient transportation development is another challenge Hemmerick and Storellicastro expect to face in their strategic planning process. Hemmerick said that Capstone Community Action, which supports housing access and Head Start among many services, will also work with the city on transportation, which is key to workforce development.
Chief Vail shares both a commitment to and experience with 21st century policing with Montpelier Police Chief Brian Peete, with whom he met earlier last week. The two cities share the services of an on-the-street specialist who works with unhoused people in collaboration with Good Samaritan Haven, which recently opened a welcome center, housing units, and offices on the renovated property in Berlin that was formerly the Twin Town Motel.
The two cities are working to resolve long-standing challenges with the region’s police and fire dispatch services. “The state police are getting out of providing central dispatching to the area towns,” Vail said. As a first step toward redesigning these essential communications, the Barre and Montpelier police departments are installing and training on identical systems. This will provide redundancy for personnel and seamless back-up if one of the systems goes down temporarily, he said.
Organizations such as Good Samaritan Haven and Washington County Mental Health are two resources that are essential collaborators for community-based policing to succeed, Vail said. “In the months I’ve been here I’ve come to greatly appreciate their work,” Vail added.