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Article Title: Gateway Park, Annual Budget & Home RuleEdition: November 2000
Category: Montpelier City Page
Author: William Fraser, City Manager
VotingAlthough all of us are already getting constant reminders, I'll start off by mentioning that Election Day is on Tuesday, November 7th. Polls will be open from 7:00 AM to 7:00 PM at City Hall. Because of the plaza construction in front of City Hall, voters will need to enter through the back door. We will be making special accommodations for voter parking and will monitor the access to make sure that things are moving smoothly. Here are some other items underway.
Gateway ParkI hope that people have had the opportunity to visit or at least see the finally completed Gateway Park on Lower State Street across from the Green Mount Cemetery. This project was funded by a state transportation enhancement grant in 1995. After many starts and stops, Patrick Healy and the Cemetery Commission took charge of the project and did an excellent job bringing it to completion. The Park provides river access and visually improves a key entry way into the city.
ProjectsProjects on Main Street, Derby Drive (and surrounding streets) and Towne Hill Road are all on track for completion by November 9th . Wheelock Street is completed. The City Hall plaza project is still slated to be done in December. Renovations inside the building should be done in November. The upgrade and overhaul and the sewer treatment plant will be ongoing for about a year.
DowntownThe Montpelier Downtown Community Assn. has been working diligently toward keeping things upbeat and moving forward. Mary Hooper and her group have already brought in over $115,000 in grant money for downtown projects as well as assisted in obtaining tax credits of $25,000 for downtown building renovation. They are putting together a grant proposal to assist with installation of sprinkler and code improvements which will help keep historic downtown buildings in place for many years. In addition to these types of grants, the MDCA is active in community promotions, marketing and improvement efforts such as the previously mentioned parking committee. Hats go off to this group who are virtually all volunteers. The current president is Anita Bird of the Times-Argus.
Annual BudgetOn the municipal government front, attention is mostly focused on preparing the FY02 budget. As mentioned last month I expect to present a recommended budget to the City Council on December 1st. The council will conduct budget workshop sessions on December 5, 11 and 18 as well as January 2 and 3. All these workshops are open to the public and your participation is encouraged. After the workshops are completed, the City Council will hold two public hearings on their proposed budget. Those hearings are set for January 10 and 25 (a Thursday night) and will be televised. Citizens will also be able to telephone in. The budget and tax rate are important issues in Montpelier. We welcome any good suggestions and constructive comments that residents would like to share.
A Home Rule DiscussionThe current election has had a lot of discussion about "local control" and "home rule". This discussion, however, has generally not focused on "home rule" in its original and traditional meaning - the extent to which local governments (cities, towns, villages, etc.) and their citizens have the ability to take actions on their own without authorization from the state government. In Vermont this ability is very limited. This has been evidenced in Montpelier by local initiatives in the areas of taxation and firearms regulation failing to win legislative approval as examples. Charter changes approved by local voters are frequently amended by the legislature. This issue is not one of political philosophies or party preferences. It is not liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican, or Take Vermont Back or Forward. It is, rather, a consideration of the longstanding structure of government in Vermont. Below are excerpts from an article originally written by Steven Jeffrey, ExecutiveDirector of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns about "Home Rule" in Vermont.
Municipal Charters"The Senate and the House of Representatives* may* grant charters of incorporation, subject to the provisions of section 69, constitute towns, boroughs, cities and counties*"
Vermont State Constitution, Section 6
"No charter of incorporation shall be granted, extended, changed or amended by special law, except for such municipal* corporations as are to be and remain under the patronage or control of the State;*"
Vermont State Constitution, Sec. 69
"Power of Municipalities to amend their charters. The inhabitants of any municipality shall have the power to alter and amend their charters on all matters, not prohibited by Constitution or general law, which are local and municipal in character."
Maine State Constitution, Article 8, Part II, Section 1
Tenuous ExistenceAnyone reading the above sections of the Vermont Constitution and comparing them to almost any other state's constitution (such as Maine's above) quickly realizes how tenuous the legal existence of Vermont cities and towns really is. The legislature can and has constituted and reconstituted towns and cities on its own initiative. An example of this was the carving up of the towns of Rutland and Pittsford to create the new towns of West Rutland and Proctor and the new City of Rutland in 1886. It sometimes seems that we are reminded daily that local voters and municipal elected officials and their governments are and remain under the patronage and control of the state. As is clear from the words of our Constitution above, the much-cherished and widely touted Vermont "local control" is written on the pages of our law books in invisible ink.
The Vermont Constitution is one of only 14 state constitutions that does not grant municipal "home rule." The section of the Maine Constitution above is that state's home rule section. It lays out nicely the best definition of the term "home rule" in its one simple sentence. After November, Vermont will be one of only 13 states to so restrict its local governments if the voters of New Hampshire ratify the recent action of its legislature. In 1999, it passed language very comparable to that governing Maine since 1970. New Hampshire and five other states now provide similar language in their statutes.
This means that anything municipal voters want to do to govern and serve themselves must receive express permission to do so from the state. This must be done through either a general law that certain municipalities can do something * such as operate a police department * or through the municipality adopting a charter. Thirty-one towns and cities have opted to operate under a charter. They do so because their voters decided that they wanted to do something other than what the general law allows * such as having seven selectboard members instead the three or five that Vermont law requires all towns to have. All Vermont towns could enact a charter if they desired, and more of them are doing so over time. Under our current statutes, this requires that even after the voters have approved the charter, it must be approved by both Houses of the legislature and signed by the Governor.
Home Rule Lacks Legal BasisLocal control is not really "illegal in Vermont" * it just lacks any real legal basis. As you prepare for your next Town Meeting vote, ponder the fact that the Vermont legislature retains the authority to negate anything that you vote on that day. Think also about the things that you would like the opportunity to decide locally sometime in the future.
Over the coming months, the Vermont League of Cities and Towns will be providing municipal and state officials and the general public with more information on the issue of home rule and the good it can bring to Vermont. True home rule that empowers local governments and their citizens can only be accomplished by amending our state constitution, and that requires that the legislature and the voters of the state be convinced that this is in Vermont's best interest. This will take thorough education and much debate. We look forward to this task. It is an essential dialogue to have in the 21st century in Vermont.
As always, I thank all of you for reading this and for your interest in City government. Please feel free to contact me with comments about this article or any other aspect of the city. My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org and my phone number is 223-9502.
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