Montpelier Parks Director Alec Ellsworth called for more public process as the City Council discussed the “recreation economy” and acquiring new parks land at its Nov. 9 meeting. Councilors also addressed allegations regarding the City’s handling of open meetings and public records, and went into executive session to consider a proposal to purchase approximately 60 acres of land and two building sites on Gould Hill Road, for an unspecified amount.
Documents supporting a Parks Department proposal to add to North Branch Park were not shared, cost estimates weren’t provided, and the Council took no action. The City cited 1 V.S.A. §317, subsection 13, claiming proposal documents “confidential and for internal City of Montpelier use only.”
Ellsworth reported on investments in the “recreation economy,” which are recreational offerings such as trails, that attract tourism, new residents, entrepreneurs, retirees with investment income, gear manufacturing, and provide the benefits of additional local tax revenue, increased small businesses, and improved public health, he said.
This year the City has invested or committed approximately $3,675,000 in recreational infrastructure: $20,000 for a Hubbard Park accessible trail, $655,000 for the proposed Confluence Park and dam removal, and the $3 million Country Club Road purchase. In addition, privately funded and potential Capital Plan funded recreational acquisitions in Montpelier include a 78-acre Hubbard Park expansion, North Branch Trails Initiative, designs for a Whitewater park, a Statehouse Path Multi-Use trail, a U-32 to Montpelier trail, Blanchard Park Accessible trail, and “several potential public/private partnerships.”
The Parks Department is also including a $26,000 seasonal Urban Ranger position in its FY24 budget request to maintain these expansions.
Councilor Cary Brown questioned the benefits of a recreational economy to residents: “I want to understand better how that is an economic benefit to the entire community. … How it will benefit the regular, everyday people?”
“The residents of Montpelier really should weigh in,” Ellsworth said. “We need a more public process.” Ellsworth noted federal money for community planning about outdoor recreation and economic development has been paused.
General Business and Appearances
John Snell said the summer farmer’s markets hosted over 52,000 attendees, 93% of whom shopped in downtown as part of their visit. Over $1 million was generated in sales, and over 600 SNAP/Crop Cash transactions occurred. Winter markets will be held at Caledonia Spirits the first and third Saturday of each month from December through April, 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.. Councilor Jack McCullough said he was ”thrilled” with the successful change of location of the summer market.
Richard Sheir requested that a previously voter-approved charter change to ban loaded firearms be reopened for discussion prior to town meeting. Fraser said the Legislature tabled the charter change and the Council did not commit to reopening the discussion.
Steve Whitaker discussed the Montpelier Transit Center restricted bathroom hours, and human waste at Confluence Park. Councilor Conor Casey noted that the Public Restroom Committee needs diverse membership and will soon schedule a meeting. Whitaker said “(At) ‘Effluent Park’ we got toilet paper hanging in the trees” and offered to take photos, for a fee, ”if that’ll help, you know.”
Peter Kelman called for the City to publish clear procedures for interim replacements for Mayor Anne Watson and Casey, who were elected to the Legislature on Nov. 8. Councilors did not respond.
Whitaker alleged Montpelier has violated the Open Meeting Law and Americans with Disabilities Act with remote access without closed-captioned recording. The Council ratified the decision of Fraser to deny the violation of the Open Meeting Law. Whitaker discussed the City’s lack of Public Records Law compliance, specifically with regard to cost, missing or incomplete records, and easy access to records when systems have changed. The councilors declined to act on this claim.
Public Works director Kurt Motyka discussed the emergency water main replacement on School Street. Repairs begin Nov. 16 through December, he said. Sidewalks will be open, water available, and residents and businesses on School Street will have access. He said the school and his department will continue to communicate about the project.
Snell reported Montpelier is in year six of the Emerald Ash Borer infestation, and by 2027 most city ash trees will be gone. Tree replacement in downtown is proceeding on schedule, he said.
White + Burke Real Estate Advisors discussed Montpelier TIF (Tax Increment Financing) District. One of the seven anticipated projects in 2018, Capital Plaza Parking Garage, was abandoned, and the pandemic changed the City’s other project needs. The council unanimously approved dissolving its TIF District, with the option of reapplying in the future.
Councilor Dona Bate shared that the Central Vermont Public Safety Authority’s $2.5 million State equipment funding request was deferred. Police Chief Brian Peete noted that “CVPSA could be a governance model but in its current form it’s dysfunctional and it doesn’t work.” The Council will invite the Authority to the Council’s Dec. 14 meeting to discuss its plans and budget.
Have a Say During Budget Time
The Montpelier City Council is developing its Fiscal Year 2024 budget and has invited the public to weigh in by taking a short survey.
The city budget drives property tax rates, which affects everyone who lives in Montpelier. By filling out the survey, you have a chance to let the City Council know what’s important to you when determining what services the city funds.
Evelyn Prim, Montpelier’s communication coordinator, wrote in a recent Front Porch Forum post:
“Your feedback will help the City decide how to prioritize services to best meet the needs of our community in 2024. Please take a moment to complete this brief survey now or before December 5, 2022.”
The survey can be found at polco.us/su8k4y.
Prim noted “Your information and answers are confidential and will not be shared.”
If you have questions about the survey process, Prim said to email assistant city manager Kelly Murphy at email@example.com.