Report from the Mayor
January 26, 2015
There are many reasons why Montpelier keeps showing up on national lists of best small towns in America: Hubbard Park, the Farmers’ Market, our vibrant downtown, our growing arts community and our good schools. My goal as mayor is to build on these great attributes and make Montpelier an even better place to live, work and play.
We’ve made much progress this year on three of our primary goals to Montpelier an even better community: improving our roads and sidewalks, completing major projects, and restraining tax growth.
The FY 16 budget that the City Council preliminarily approved on January 7th would increase our tax rate by 2.2%. (Do you want to wait until Thursday’s meeting to have final number?) The budget preserves essential services while also increasing infrastructure spending by $166,000. With the passage of this budget, we will have seen total budget growth of 4% from FY 14-16, which is less than the rate of inflation during that time.
By next June, we will be halfway towards our six-year goal of increasing infrastructure spending by one million dollars per year. We are beginning to see meaningful progress in repairing our deteriorated roads and sidewalks, and that progress will accelerate as spending continues to increase each year.
At the same time, it has become more difficult each year to increase capital spending while maintaining reasonable growth in our tax rate. The city council had to make difficult budgetary choices this year, and those choices are going to become even harder in the coming years.
I have proposed that we hold a public engagement process this Spring to get input from Montpelier residents about how to address our budget and infrastructure challenges over the next three years. The challenge is this: we need to increase our capital spending by an additional $500 thousand per year to reach a sustainable maintenance level. Given our high property tax rate, however, we cannot afford to pay for that increase through higher taxes. I look forward to hearing ideas from city residents about how to meet that challenge.
We made great progress last year on the city’s priority projects. The biomass distribution system was completed in 2014 and is providing renewably generated heat to city, state and private downtown office buildings. City Manager Bill Fraser, Assistant City Manager Jessie Baker, and the Department of Public Works staff deserve great credit for completing this project on time and within 5% of budget.
The One Taylor Street project is well underway, with the basic design in place for a new transit center, 30-40 residential housing units, river access and a bike path. The project has experienced delays, and we now anticipate that construction will be completed by fall 2016.
Do you want to mention delays in these two items or emphasize the estimated completion dates?
We’re also making progress on the bike path extension from Granite Street to Gallison Hill Rd. The project has been designed and negotiations are underway for the necessary easements. This project has also experienced delays, and it is now expected to be finished in 2016.
I am excited about the progress we are making on the goal of Net Zero Montpelier. The City Council has adopted a goal of producing or offsetting all of its energy use with renewable energy by 2030. The Montpelier Energy Advisory Committee has received national recognition for its work on this project. I am hopeful that in 2015 we will develop specific, community-wide initiatives as we lead the way in transitioning from fossil fuels to renewable energy.
In partnership with Montpelier Alive, we have held a number of events that explore how we can improve the marketing and design of our downtown. We retained a consultant who led a community-wide process to redefine Montpelier’s brand. That process led to the creation of a terrific new logo and a branding statement we can all be proud of.
With the assistance of a federal grant, we engaged another consultant to guide us in rethinking ways to improve some of our downtown public space. Like any brainstorming process, not all of the ideas are appropriate for action. But some – like extending the bike path from the Recreation Center along Barre Street to Main Street and redesigning that intersection – merit further exploration.
Finally, we held a community-wide Downtown Design Summit in November that was attended by nearly 100 residents. That summit produced many more ideas about how to make our downtown even more vibrant and pedestrian- and bike-friendly.
* * *
The real work on all of these initiatives is performed by our highly capable and dedicated city staff. Led by City Manager Bill Fraser and Assistant City Manager, we are fortunate to have incredibly talented and committed city employees who keep our streets clean, our homes safe and our community strong.
As always, I am grateful to have the privilege and honor to serve as mayor of our great small-town capital city.