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Montpelier City Council Goals for 2013: How Did We Do?
John Hollar

Mayor

The start of the new year is a good time to look back at how the city fared on its goals for 2013. The city council established an ambitious set of priorities last spring. I am pleased to report that we have made major progress on most of them. Here are some highlights:

Municipal Projects

The city made major strides in 2013 on three projects that were a priority for the city council: 

  • Biomass Project. The city completed construction of the biomass distribution system in downtown Montpelier in 2013. The project was completed on budget and largely on schedule, although it created significant disruption in the downtown area for many months, and it had a major financial impact on a number of merchants. The city is now operating a small-scale distribution system through the use of City Hall boilers, and we plan to connect to the state’s biomass plant this fall. I am proud to say that our city offices, many of our largest downtown buildings, and Union Elementary School will be heated with renewable energy beginning in October.
  • Carr Lot. After a dozen years of discussion and activity, the city acquired the Carr Lot on January 2, 2014 for a purchase price of $1.4 million. This was more than we had anticipated paying for the site, but it allowed us to avoid the expensive, time-consuming and uncertain process of eminent domain. The acquisition costs will be paid almost entirely from project funds, which include federal grants and revenue from private development on the site. This is an exciting project that will result in the construction of a new transit center on Taylor Street; the completion of the bike path from Main Street to Taylor Street; the construction of a new bike and pedestrian bridge over the North Branch; the creation of new river access; and the development of new public green space. Construction is expected to begin this fall and should be completed in 2015.
  • Bike Path. We have made a great deal of progress this year towards completing the bike path from Granite Street to the Civic Center. The city is expected to finalize rights of way, easements, and permitting for the project this spring. Construction work will then be bid, and the path is expected to be completed in the fall of 2015. Bikers and walkers will able to use the path to travel the entire length of Montpelier.
Infrastructure

The city council set an ambitious goal of increasing our investment in city streets, bridges and sidewalks over five years to ensure that they are repaired and maintained in good condition. We estimate that this will require us to spend about $800,000 more each year than we have been spending. The 2015 budget calls for an increase of $166,000 in infrastructure investments, after a similar increase was made in this year’s budget. Residents should notice a significant improvement in the quality of city streets and sidewalks.

Municipal Taxes

Working together, the city council, the city manager and his staff have restrained the rate of growth in Montpelier’s municipal tax rate. While our median tax bills remain high, our tax rate increased by only 0.5% in 2013. This year’s proposed budget calls for an increase of 1.8%. The two-year average places us well below the rate of inflation. This is a significant accomplishment given the sizeable increase we have made in capital spending, as well as the progress we have made on the range of projects described above. Our city staff deserve a great deal of credit for proposing budgets that meet the council’s goal of minimizing tax increases, while also making more efficient the delivery of city services.

Other Priorities:
  • Address parking pressures. This is an ongoing challenge that has been difficult to solve given the limited availability of land in Montpelier and the cost of building a parking garage. Nonetheless, a parking committee has spent a great deal of time, working closely with the state, to develop alternatives. This will be an ongoing focus of attention in 2014.
  • Improve the flow of information to and from the community. The city is developing a new web site that is expected to launch in the fall of 2014. This modernized site, along with improved protocols for communicating about City efforts, will help us present better information to the public and obtain feedback about how we are doing. The city did not meet this goal with respect to the delivery of information about construction of the biomass plant, so this is an area that will require greater attention in the coming year.
  • Become a nationally known bike- and pedestrian-friendly city. The Montpelier Bike Advisory Committee, formed in 2011, meets regularly and is developing meaningful plans to make Montpelier a more bike-friendly community. Thanks to the work of Councilor Jessica Edgerly-Walsh, the council approved a plan to devote five percent of all parking revenues towards improved infrastructure for alternative transportation. With those funds – about $45,000 per year – we should begin to see more bike lanes and markings, bike racks, and other improvements to make Montpelier a more bike-friendly place.
  • Explore alternative energy initiatives. With the guidance of the Montpelier Energy Advisory Committee, the City issued a Request for Proposals this fall to install photovoltaic arrays on City property for the purpose of generating energy for use by the City through group net metering. The Energy Committee is currently reviewing responses from seven vendors and will make a recommendation to the Council later this winter.
  • Support and promote a vibrant downtown. I have met regularly with representatives of the Farmers’ Market during the past year to encourage them not to move from downtown Montpelier. The market is now committed to staying downtown, but they continue to seek a more permanent location. The council and the voters also approved the creation of the Downtown Improvement District, which has created a significant new source of funding to make our downtown more appealing. Finally, the city has worked closely with Montpelier Alive on a range of other projects, including the creation of new parklets for downtown merchants and the periodic closure of State Street for events. Montpelier Alive continues to be an essential partner with the city in promoting our downtown.
Montpelier is fortunate to have talented and dedicated city employees and volunteers. Their hard work – along with the work of my colleagues on the city council – is responsible for the city’s progress in 2013.



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