January 25, 2022
While 2021 has been a difficult year in many ways, we on the City Council still have a lot to be thankful for.
What do we have to be thankful for? The first thing that comes to mind is the federal relief money from the American Rescue Plan Act, or ARPA. When the local and national economy came to a sudden halt in 2020 due to COVID, the City’s revenues dropped significantly. In order to keep the lights on we furloughed staff and postponed many of our capital improvement projects. At this point we have brought all of our staff back, and the ARPA money is going to be enough for us to move forward with those postponed infrastructure projects and purchases from FY20 and FY21. That still leaves us behind on infrastructure as we significantly downscaled our capital improvement projects in the FY22 budget, but we are starting to catch up now with the proposed FY23 budget.
The Council is also very thankful for the excellent work of the many volunteers that serve on City committees and boards. A few of the committees I want to recognize in particular this year are the Police Review Committee, the Social and Economic Justice Committee, and the Homelessness Task Force. The Police Review Committee put together a thorough and thoughtful document that has suggestions for policing in our community. Some of the suggestions have been built into the proposed FY23 budget, including the purchase of body-worn cameras for our police officers.
Our Social and Economic Justice Committee worked together with a contracted partner to produce an Equity Report for the City. Similarly, the Equity Report had suggestions for how we as a municipality could make structural changes to improve the equity of our City’s systems. One of those suggestions that had a budgetary component has been included in the proposed FY23 budget. Specifically, they recommended that stipends be available for those serving on City boards and committees, as many folks may not be able to otherwise afford to participate. We have included a limited amount of money in this budget to go toward committee stipends as a pilot project.
Since their beginning, the Homelessness Task Force has worked hard to find solutions to help the unsheltered in our community. The scale of the problem is significant, and we acknowledge that we may not be able to end homelessness, but we have been able to fill some gaps and expand the work of local service providers. Through City funding, we have been able to expand the Good Samaritan’s peer support services, provide additional emergency hotel rooms and emergency transportation support to those in need.
Currently, as we look forward into the next fiscal year, the Council is very focused on the budget. At the time that I’m writing this, the budget currently stands at a 6.8% increase to taxpayers, which I will admit sounds like a lot, but there are a few reasons why I believe this budget makes sense for us at present. The most recent inflation numbers nationally have CPI at 6.8%, so I’m glad to say that we have stayed within the rate of inflation. Last year with COVID in full swing, the Council held the line to keep the budget increase to a minimum. It was only 0.67% last year, the lowest budgetary increase I have ever seen while serving on the council. That means over the last two years, the budget has only increased about 3.7% per year.
One difference between this year and previous years was that we went through a strategic planning process just before the budget, which meant that staff and the Council were able to align our strategic plan with the budget more closely. This budget is particularly reflective of the Council’s goals, which has been guided by what we hear from constituents. Some of the prioritized strategies from our strategic planning document include:
- Implement Long-term Department of Public Works/Infrastructure Plans - which is a somewhat formal way of saying “catch up on infrastructure”.
- Address Climate Change Issues - including implementation of Net Zero plan recommendations
- Communicate Effectively - this includes improving the City's Website
- Address Homelessness in the Community - including “create and begin implementation of a definitive plan for addressing homelessness”
- Actively Support Economic Development and Promote Outdoor Economic Development - this is directly connected to one of the bonds that will be up for a vote on Town Meeting Day, that includes the potential purchase of land for a new recreation facility.
There’s a lot more to our strategic planning document, just look for “FY22-23 Council Strategic Plan” on the City’s website if you ‘re interested in learning more of the specifics.
Other items that I’m particularly glad to see in this budget include:
- Ongoing support for Capital Area Neighborhoods
- Ongoing support for the MyRide micro-transit service
- Creation of an Energy Coordinator, which will help the City accomplish its internal Net Zero 2030 goal and it’s community-wide Net Zero 2050 goal.
- A charging station owned by the City which will enable the City to start shifting its vehicle fleet off of fossil fuels and toward electric power.
As always, please get in touch with us if you have thoughts, ideas, or concerns. Don’t underestimate that power that your voice has on our work. Many of our initiatives, time, and priorities come directly from ideas and suggestions that have come from our fellow Montpelierites.
Even as we face an uncertain future, the City still has important and urgent work ahead, and I am confident that this budget will enable the City to move in the right direction, making progress on the values that we as Montpelier residents collectively share
January 13, 2021
Peaceful transference of power is the cornerstone of our Democracy in the United States. Last week, the Country witnessed a violent attack on that cornerstone, through an inexcusable riot at our Capital. On behalf of the City of Montpelier and the Montpelier City Council, we fiercely condemn those actions. The election results are lawful and the will of the American people has been made clear.
The City joins other local government leaders in calling for justice against those who were involved in the attacks on our Capital. The individuals who coordinated the riot should be met with the full extent of possible legal consequences for their actions.
There are now clear calls and planning for armed protests against the election in State Capitals throughout the Country, including at the Vermont State House in Montpelier, on Sunday, January 17th and again, potentially, on Wednesday, January 20th which is inauguration day.
The City calls on all towns and cities – especially our fellow State capitals - to support safe protests and the peaceful transition of power. Lawful assembly, demonstrations, and political speech will be honored and protected. However, unlawful attempts at insurrection, personal injury, property damage, and the like will have legal consequences.
While we will always defend the right to protest and to exercise free speech, an armed gathering while national tensions are high has the potential to be very dangerous. All of us are responsible for our own actions. While it’s not an order or a directive, we are asking you to make the safe choice and refrain from direct in-person counter-protest activity due to the risk of violence. There are other ways, safer ways to make your voice heard and to stand up for what you believe in. We’re asking you to consider safety first during these events.
The City is working toward a peaceful, safe, and lawful event. The Montpelier Police Department, in partnership with the State and Capital police forces, has recommended the closure of our local school facilities, the Capitol building, and the Montpelier City Hall on the 20th. These closures will allow our local law enforcement to focus on the events at the State House. The City will continue to hold the health, safety, and wellbeing of our residents and the public paramount in our operations.
I’m sure that some of you listening may be carrying anxiety around this topic. The first thing I try to do when I’m stressed out is to remember to breathe, stay grounded, and remind myself of what’s true. Here’s what I know to be true: The City is doing its best to prepare for these protests on the 17th and the 20th. We’re going to get through this together. Today, we are a community that cares deeply about each other, and that will still be true on January 21st. In the meantime, I encourage you to exercise, meditate, pray, connect with those you care about, connect with a counselor, or do whatever you need to do to take care of yourself.
Stay safe and thank you for listening.
June 18, 2020
On Saturday, June 13, 2020, over 200 Vermonters came together in an act of solidarity and inclusiveness to paint Black Lives Matter on State Street in front of our State Capitol. This installation was done with the express permission and support of both the State of Vermont and the City of Montpelier. Within 24 hours of its installation, this potent symbol of unity was anonymously vandalized and defaced with graffiti.
As Mayor, I condemn the acts of vandalism and destruction that a cowardly few would seek to inflict on us. To those individuals who would seek to deface these public installations, I implore you to consider what position would require such violence and destruction. I invite you to set these prejudices of the past aside and to reach out to your neighbor and to know the history and facts behind this moment.
I want to thank the Montpelier Fire Department, Department of Public Works, the State’s Buildings and General Services employees, and members of the public for their quick clean-up, which has minimized the damage and prevented the oil and other substances from entering our storm drains. I want to thank the Montpelier Police Department for investigating this incident and for taking quick action to ensure that the suspect is brought to justice. The professional work of each Department is a credit to our City and a benefit to us all.
The work that we are undertaking, by focusing our attention on racism, has begun to plumb the depths of our national wound. We cannot expect to clean and heal if we are unwilling to see the extent of the trauma that racism has caused in our country. The defacing of the mural last night shows that we, here in Washington County, are not unaffected by racism. We are not immune.
Today, our City, our State, and our Nation continues the hard work of reckoning with our long-held and deeply entrenched policies that have through intent or function caused certain of our citizens to suffer disparate treatment and impact because of their skin color, background, or creed. Let us commit from this moment to having the hard conversations with our family, friends, and co-workers about racism in all its insidious forms and to contemplate how our systems can work better for all of its citizens.
It took less than one day before someone, using the shadows of night, sought to void the voices of our community. There is no doubt that this action, meant to hurt the BLM movement, will only strengthen the resolve of those who work for justice and equity in our community. Instead of casting doubt, this act proves that taking a stand for the people of color in our community continues to be relevant and necessary.
April 08, 2020
March 30, 2020
June 28, 2018
Placemaking in Montpelier
Between summertime and the nice weather, the end of the school year, and the new construction season, it feels like a time of collective exhaling for our community. It’s such a relief to be able to breathe the warm summer air.
Groundbreakings and Openings
My schedule has been packed lately with all kinds of delightful events, many of which are going to contribute to community and the “special sense of place” that Montpelier embodies. I have celebrated more new beginnings this year that I expected to. There was a great ribbon-cutting event for Roam, the new shoe and clothing store on Langdon Street, along with Onion River Outdoors, the new incarnation of Onion River Sports.
Very soon we’ll celebrate the official opening of the Guertin Pocket Park, along the bike path near Taylor Street, and I hope to soon resolve where the pocket park by Downtown Tees will live long-term. Speaking of Taylor Street, the groundbreaking event the other day was fun, and it felt only right to honor the many councils that have come and gone over the last decade or more that have shepherded this project along.
Caledonia Spirits will continue their construction this summer, and I look forward to visiting them when it’s open. Perhaps by then the new bike path extension will be done. This summer the City will start construction to extend the bike path from where it ends at Granite Street, near the Coop, further down Barre Street, then down Old Country Club Road, all the way to the edge of town! I can’t wait to take my nieces on a bike ride through town, from one end of Montpelier to the other.
In addition to construction, I am so delighted that Dan Groberg has stepped in as the Montpelier Alive Director; I already enjoy working with him. Laura Gebhart, our new director of the Montpelier Development Corporation, is active in and engaged with the community. We have some great people in place. We really are lucky to have them both!
In addition to this exciting work, I want to highlight a couple of items from our strategic plan, that I’m really excited for the council to begin discussing.
Making the WRRF Thermally Net-Zero
We need to upgrade our Water Resource Recovery Facility (WRRF) down by Dog River. Since these upgrades need to happen anyway, we’ve asked our crew to begin crunching numbers for a plan that will take in more product for a fee, and then we can turn that material into energy. It would likely be enough energy to heat the facility or make it thermally net-zero. They will come back to us with a final proposal in the late summer or early fall, when the council give the project a final evaluation, and if appropriate, approval. We’ll need to examine the numbers carefully, but I’m hopeful that this will be a viable project for us.
At our last council meeting students from Montpelier High School presented to the council, asking us to ban plastic bags. They had conducted an informal survey and showed us the results. Most of the people surveyed were in support of a plastic bag ban. Anticipating that not everyone would love a plastic bag ban, I’ve started checking in with local retailers who currently use plastic bags to hear their thoughts. To my happy surprise, so far all the retailers I’ve spoken with are in favor of the ban.
This week I received a letter in the mail from a high school student asking us to please ban plastic straws as well. In the letter, she says, “I know it is possible to have biodegradable straws because I have eaten FroYo with a biodegradable spoon. It might be a little more expensive, but that expense would be worth a cleaner environment.”
Whatever direction this takes, if approved, the process moving forward would include a new ordinance, and it may also include a charter change. Either way, I look forward to a robust discussion about what this could mean for our community.
Emerald Ash Borer (EAB)
One unwelcome guest this summer is the Emerald Ash Borer. This little bug has decimated Ash Tree populations in southern New England over the last decade, and we have unfortunately recently discovered its presence in Montpelier. This has wiped out forests south of us, and beyond the ecological costs, it has been incredibly expensive for these communities to clean up the trees in the wake of the EAB. What does this mean for us? We’ll all be looking to our (active and admirable) Tree Board for guidance. They have been working on a plan, but now it’s time to execute it. They’ll be coming to our meeting in July (I believe), to let us know how to proceed. Many of our street trees are Ash, and there is a significant percentage of Ash trees in Hubbard Park. While the council comes up with a plan for protecting our Ash Trees as well as limiting the damage EAB can do, please also do not move firewood out of the City of Montpelier.
EAB aside, I’m looking forward to the upcoming changes in Montpelier. We have good work being done through construction, and we’re laying the foundation for good discussions to make Montpelier and even better place to live.