Montpelier’s City Council met last week despite much of the city’s staff being sick with COVID and in quarantine. The council nonetheless found itself at the half-way point of a two-year strategic plan, at a meeting dominated by a report on how the plan is going and what’s coming next.
What is a strategic plan? It’s a plan created by city officials and the city council outlining the mission and direction of the city while addressing important projects both underway and forthcoming. Essentially, the plan answers the questions: “What does Montpelier need? Do we all agree upon it? How will we do it? Who is going to do it, and how are we going to pay for it?”
It’s a big job.
City Manager Bill Fraser opened his presentation about the plan with the Athenian Oath, with particular emphasis on the last paragraph: “Thus, in all these ways, we will transmit this city not only, not less, but greater and more beautiful that it was transmitted to us.”
The report below summarizes his presentation.
“Provide Responsible and Engaged Local Government”
Fraser reported that the city is working on a new, more user-friendly website with improved accessibility. He also discussed a new city position, communications coordinator, currently filled by Evelyn Prim. Former city building inspector Chris Lumbra will fill another new position, facilities and sustainability director, Fraser said. Lumbra’s first task is to focus on reducing emissions.
A program to offer stipends to volunteer committee members, approved by voters in March 2022, has begun, Fraser said. As well, preliminary results of the Montpelier citizen survey attached a “higher than benchmark,” rating to items such as visitor appeal, community engagement, commercial vibrancy, walkability, historical character and preservation, proximity of paths and walking trails, and a culture of community supported arts. Rated “lower than benchmark,” were affordable childcare and preschool programming, economic development, street repair, a lack of garbage and yard waste collection, and a perceived dearth of recreation centers and facilities.
“Create Housing and Improve Community Prosperity”
With the purchase of the 203 Country Club Road property, the city plan for this parcel includes a housing development, outdoor recreation, a community center, and childcare facilities, Fraser said. He also said that the Housing Trust has been fully funded to provide financial assistance to renters and buyers. The city has also reconstituted its Housing Committee, and it is worth mentioning the work of the Homelessness Task Force, which recently contracted with Parker Advisors (Dan Towle and Paul Cabcara) to draft a city plan of action for addressing homelessness in Montpelier.
“Practice Environmental Stewardship”
Casella Waste Systems is working with the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation to develop a system to filter PFAS from landfill leachate, Fraser said. PFAS — per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances — are chemicals found in many products, including heat- and grease-resistant coatings, that ultimately end up in landfills, and, from there, in leachate, the chemical-laced liquid that drains out of landfills. Montpelier had been the sole municipality processing landfill leachate (for nearly $500,000 per year in revenue) at its wastewater treatment plant until June 2022, when it suspended receipt of landfill leachate because of high levels of E. coli in effluent. Fraser told The Bridge that he expects the city to resume accepting leachate once it has had PFAS removal treatment.
Fraser also reported that the land surrounding Berlin Pond was purchased for conservation because it is the source of Montpelier’s drinking water. The city is still actively developing Confluence Park, a new city park located at the confluence of the Winooski and North Branch rivers, he said. A city-wide net-zero plan has been implemented, with a goal to “achieve Net Zero by the year 2030.” The city is striving to become “the first capital city to eliminate fossil fuel use by converting to 100% renewable energy,” as stated on the city website.
With approval from the council, the Department of Public Works has awarded Brown and Caldwell, an engineering consultant based in Andover, Massachusetts, the contract to develop the Montpelier Storm Water Utility, with the hope that the project will be completed by July 1, 2023.
“Build and Maintain Sustainable Infrastructure”
Fraser said the East State Street project should begin next spring. It’s a major undertaking that will disconnect and separate the “existing storm sewer system from the existing sanitary sewer system.” The Montpelier Water Resource Recovery Facility is currently in phase two of a $16.4 million bonded project to increase efficiency and add to “hauled waste revenue(s),” states the city website. With the help of funds from the American Rescue Plan Act, the city tackled some backlogged street paving projects this year, Fraser said. Planning for the new design of the Main and Barre streets intersection is underway, with the approval of a streetlight project, he added.
“Improve Public Health and Safety”
Along with the Homelessness Task Force’s action plan, the city has donated $100,000 to the new homeless shelter in Berlin and the implementation of a crisis intervention team, a “community partnership between law enforcement, mental health, medical and addiction professionals, individuals who live with mental illness (and/or their families), and other advocates who forge a response model that promotes access to treatment rather than entry into the criminal justice system,” as outlined on the city website. In addition, Montpelier is working to broaden the reach and capacity of regional dispatch communications and actively addressing staffing shortages across a number of city departments.
The city council’s next meeting is Wednesday, Oct. 12. To see city agendas and minutes go to montpelier-vt.org/129/Agendas-Minutes. To see ORCA Media’s videos of city council meetings, go orcamedia.net/show/montpelier-city-council-live.