by Linda Berger
The Montpelier City Council addressed the following business at its October 12, 2022 meeting:
Peter Kelman, one of Montpelier’s Capital Area Neighborhood (CAN) coordinators, told the council that the Sustainable Montpelier Coalition has discontinued staffing support for CAN. According to Kelman, the assigned staff “left apparently sometime in August and we haven’t heard anything from or about CAN. … It’s very clear to me anyway that Sustainable Montpelier does not have a capacity as an organization to fulfill the MOU that they signed with the city.”
Funding Request Process Waived
What appeared to be a routine presentation and ballot request by Sandy Rousseau and Kim LaGue of Central Vermont Home Health and Hospice led the council to initiate a review of the city’s process for getting non-governmental funding requests on the ballot. Montpelier encompasses 14% of the organization’s home visits, Rousseau said, and requested that a level-funding request again be added to the ballot without submitting a petition with signatures from 10% of the population (as required in the city charter). Last year this requirement was waived because of the pandemic. This agency is still grappling with the direct and indirect impacts of the pandemic on their operations, Rousseau said. Councilors Cary Brown, Laurel Hierl, and Conor Casey questioned if the COVID exemption applies now.
“My question is about our process and that we have made a decision a few years ago that we were going to have this community fund and either you apply to that or you petition,” Brown said.
City Manager Bill Fraser clarified that in addition to the community fund or getting on the March ballot, there are agencies that receive a dispensation from that process as long as they submit a level-funding request. Specifically, the Kellogg-Hubbard Library is a separate request “because they’re so large and because they are a quasi-municipal function, the city has allowed them to place an item on the ballot without petition if it’s the same amount as the prior year, and the city councilors’ policy has been if you are increasing your amount you need to petition.”
Councilors approved the one-year waiver of the signature requirement for Home Health and Hospice and committed to review the city’s processes of funding the requests of private agencies.
Planning for Use of Elks Club Property
White & Burke presented a comprehensive update to their master planning project for the 203 Country Club Road (former Elks Club) property recently purchased by the city. The firm plans to conclude its work in the spring of 2023, when it will present a few scenarios about how to develop the property for the council and for the public to consider. This $150,000 project — bankrolled by several community and economic development funds, and an unrestricted fund — is currently using flyers, other print media, live sessions, and the city’s website to share and gather information.
The council approved updates to the second year of its strategic plan, with a focus on amendments to housing goals. Anne Watson recused herself during this discussion. Updated language included support for advancing an affordable housing project and to include in the homelessness/emergency needs sections efforts to reduce or prevent homelessness by reductions in evictions.The language of these will be brought to the Housing and Homelessness committees, and if they suggest an amendment and the council approves, it can amend their language in a future meeting.
Some items in the plan were struck out if they have been completed or because there isn’t capacity to do them or they were moved to a different category. The peer support outreach worker is now under the public safety strategy. In response to a citizen’s question, work that is already in process, such as updating the Montpelier waste water discharge permit, and work that the city is under a state order to do, such as corrective actions to control nuisance odors at the water resource recovery facility, are not included in the strategic plan because those are not policy decisions, just as plowing roads is not in the plan. Some updates on items not included in the strategic plan will be provided at the next council meeting.
The council made several committee appointments, including Mary Alice Bisby to the ADA Committee; Craig Durham to the Transportation Infrastructure Committee; Kirby Keeton and Gabriel Lajeunesse to the Planning Commission; Michel Lazorchak to the Conservation Commission; and Kenneth Russell, Richard DeAngelis, Will Eberle, Zachary Hughes, Ericka Reil, Dawn Little, Carolyn Ridpath, Nat Frothinghan, and Peter Kerman to the Homelessness Task Force.
The council saw a familiar face during the “General Business and Appearances” section of the meeting set aside for members of the public to speak for two minutes each to the council about items that aren’t on the agenda. For the first time since June 8, when he was arrested and removed from the council meeting for violating speaking time limits and refusing to leave after Mayor Anne Watson asked him to several times, local government critic Steve Whitaker showed up with similar complaints as he had this summer (garbage piling up near the river, he said, including tents, shopping carts, and other debris in Confluence Park; and, he said, he’s still waiting for a massive public records request about emails regarding city staff). He began his statement with a “shame on you” to the council for having him arrested for what he said was exercising his first amendment right, and ended with saying the two-minute speaking limit for members of the public is unconstitutional.
David Towle, of Parker Advisors, informed the council on the 20-week project they started last week for the Montpelier Homelessness Task Force. Parker Advisors will inventory existing services and infrastructure; conduct a needs assessment with the unhoused, organizations, and stakeholders; and provide “concrete and actionable solutions” to address gaps in services, with cost estimates that hopefully will inform the budgeting and strategic planning process. Bill Fraser noted that a large portion of last year’s ARPA funds have been set aside for this process as well.
ORCA Media videos of City Council meetings can be viewed at: youtube.com/c/ORCAMedia.