by Taylor McNeely
A seemingly mundane task — appointing committee members — took a turn at last week’s Montpelier City Council meeting, when a public arts commission member told the council he’d been asked to leave the commission. Thomas Mulholland, a recent commission appointee, told the council he has been asked to step down from his position by commission chair Ward Joyce because members claimed they “felt threatened and unsafe by me; that I’d made offensive remarks, that I was sexist.”
Mulholland claims the push-back to his appointment is a result of vocalizing views contrary to those of the public arts commission. Later in the meeting, the council entered into an executive session, resulting in a three-part motion to place Thomas Mulholland on administrative leave and refer the issue to the Community Justice Center in an effort to find a resolution. If that resolution cannot be found, the issue will be brought back before the council for a fact-finding process, which then gets reported to the council.
Also in commission actions, the council appointed Sienna Tuinei to the conservation commission for a two-year seat, and Phyllis Rubenstein to a four-year seat.
Homelessness Task Force and Housing Voucher Concerns
Addressing concerns about a quorum and diversified representation on the homelessness task force, councilors voted to allow for new members on the task force, with the hope of drawing community members who aren’t affiliated with the organizations already working in homelessness, alongside adding a two-year term limit for task force members. The task force is currently made up of members of the city council, Another Way, Good Samaritan Haven, and the Montpelier Police Department.
In other housing news, city manager Bill Fraser told the council that housing vouchers will cease in March 2023. Fraser called it a situation that is, “getting worse” now that the federal funding for the program is coming to an end, and warned that if something is not done, it could put pressure on the city to “go into crisis mode.”
Elks Club Updates
Councilors approved a three-year lease of the 203 Country Club Road property to the nonprofit social and recreational organization “The HUB.” The HUB plans to bring in Three Penny Taproom to offer light fare and drinks, and The HUB will add virtual sports, lawn games, and events.
In response to a prior request to bow hunt on the property, the council decided to allow hunting to continue there for what remains of the 2022 hunting season.
In preparation for a robust public process about how to move forward with both housing and recreation on the 133.5-acre property, the city has contracted with White + Burke, a “team of real estate investment consultants,” according to their website. White + Burke’s current public engagement plan, which is to hold three separate meetings about the issue and to hold separate conversations with stakeholders, was met with criticism by some councilors. Alternative outreach methods were discussed among the councilors, such as the Capital Area Neighborhoods network, districts-specific town meetings led by district representatives, intentionally approaching BIPOC and LGBTQ+ affinity groups for their insight and participation with the issue, as well as simple advertising that engages with Montpelier children.
In the council’s first reading of the “Parklet Ordinance Update,” council members listened to comments made by Wes Hamilton, owner of Three Penny Taproom. Three Penny has a parklet space, he said, suggesting that use of the taproom’s parklet by the general public after business hours is worrisome given the large investment he has made to create and maintain the space, as well as how vital the parklet space is to the operation of the taproom. A previously motioned temporary ordinance, written in response to the pandemic, still stands, and does not explicitly outline after-hours parklet use by the public. A motion was made to strike language from the original base policy to better address the issue but not conclusively exclude the potential for public use of the parklets. The agenda item having passed the first reading will now move on to a second reading by the council in an upcoming meeting.
City Closes Fiscal Year in the Black
While some funds overspent in fiscal year 2022, the city closed the year with a positive balance of $339,159, according to Montpelier Director of Finance Kelly Murphy, who presented a year-end financial report.
Murphy said the city finished the fiscal year, “positive in all funds but two.” In the negative were the senior center (−$163,358) and district heat (−$151,395). Murphy said “investments [are] not coming in as they normally do.” As well, she said, costs in the heat fund came in higher than expected as city buildings transitioned from heating oil to biomass wood chips. Murphy said she expects the senior center funds to rebound as programming fees start coming in.
Overall revenue has increased, Murphy said. Topping the list of positive categories is the PILOT program, up $453,000, followed by the category “intergovernmental,” up $216,000, and “miscellaneous,” up $138,000, which includes items such as the “COPS grant” and moving the space shuttle Challenger monument. As well, property tax revenue increased $30,000.
Revenues generated by business permits and licensing were down $51,000, Murphy reported, as well as equipment and land revenues, down $29,500. Overall, she said, the city spent $380,000 more than expected. However, with increased revenues and help from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the city’s balance remains positive at $339,159.
The American Rescue Plan Act awarded $2.2 million to Montpelier, which used the funds as a “standard allowance,” allowing the funds to be used in the “most categorical sense,” said Murphy. To date, Montpelier has received $1,487,720.44 in ARPA funds and should receive the remaining $715,962.32 this month. All ARPA funds must be allotted by Dec. 31, 2024 and spent by Dec. 31, 2026, or they will be returned to the Treasury, she said.