In a speech before the St. Albans City Council Monday night St. Albans Town Selectboard chairman Brendan Deso called for unity between the two communities asking “…will we ever realize our potential as a county if we never abandon the psychological mindset of ‘us vs them’ when it comes to how we interact with our municipal neighbors?”

Mr. Deso identified a number of initiatives in need of addressing, including a proposed joint economic development team comprised of city and town officials, a group to focus on the need to address Lake Champlain’s poor water quality, the regionalization of services, and recreation and pedestrian infrastructure.

The assumption is that Mr. Deso delivered the speech with the backing of the other four members of the Town Selectboad. If so, it’s an encouraging step in a relationship that’s had more than its share of conflict, including the town’s most recent decision to drop the city’s police services.

Putting the past in the past requires both municipalities to find common denominator objectives that unite, goals that address the prosperity of both, and goals that avoid division. It’s a given that both communities are fully on board.

It’s long been expressed that one of the area’s greatest needs is for the city and town to join as an economic development team; it’s never made any sense to proceed separately. With the issue of water and sewer behind us, that potential exists and now is the time to act.

It also makes sense to fund such an initiative through the local option tax, a funding source available to both municipalities.

If both the city and town can come together with a joint economic development team, they might discover they have the political/economic infrastructure necessary to drive other discussions, like Lake Champlain’s water quality, affordable housing, and local educational initiatives.

Mr. Deso also made the suggestion that the joint “working group” identify a “major project that would benefit our communities.” He said, “Imagine a multi-use path connecting Route 7 from the area of SATEC to the Complex, and from the Complex to Hard’ack, and from Hard’ack to the Rail Trail, and then the Rail Trail to the Bay Area.”

Mr. Deso followed this by saying, “This example of a major investment is not as far fetched as you might think. It’s only improbable at the moment because the isolationism we’ve operated under to date has fragmented our collective resolve and political strength. If we work together, we can take on big projects like this and we can produce results intended to grow our grand lists and enhance our local economy.”

Mr. Deso is right. Few things are beyond our abilities if the cooperation and trust are there. It bears remembering that, as the cliche goes, it’s not the mountains ahead that beat you, it’s the grains of sand in the shoe. The city council should take the town selectboard up on its offer. Both should find ways to show their respective constituencies the value of common purpose and the strength of acting as a single force. Both need to address the question of “us vs them” whenever they make decisions that impact the other.

It’s a safe bet both communities will be watching anxiously for signs of that unity.

by Emerson Lynn

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