The 126-year separation of St. Albans City and St. Albans Town was stitched together this week in a his- toric agreement that resolves the central differences between two communities that share the same borders and champion the same goals. The relief, and thankfulness, should be profound.
The two municipalities Wednesday agreed to a contract that binds the two communities for the next 13 years, a contract that covers both community policing and the use of water and sewer. The length of the contract, and the steps required for either community to renege, are such that the citizens of both communities can reasonably expect the contractual changes to be permanent.
The terms of the agreement will be phased in over the next 18 months. Then, town residents will have the same access to the city’s sewer and water as their neighbors in the city. The controversial affiliation fees will no longer exist. Residents in both communities will share the cost of policing, and both will benefit from the efficiency of being able to plan long-term rather than lurching from one contract to another and from one service [the city] to another [the Franklin County Sheriff’s office.] Water and sewer will no longer be a point of contention between the two communities when recruiting new businesses and industry.
For the taxpayers of both communities the “grand bargain” is as welcome as it is encouraging. At long last, we are forging a path forward and doing so in unison.
The agreement, however, reflects more than simple efficiency. It’s about stepping above and beyond generations of hidebound grievances and entrenched levels of mistrust. For generations those who governed both communities did so believing they were the aggrieved, that the opposing municipality [city or town] was always looking for the advantage, and that their motives were suspect.
The gears of cooperation began to loosen - ever so minutely - when Liz Gamache was the city’s mayor, and Bernie Boudreau was chair of the town selectboard. They began to meet monthly. [A first.] That was more than a decade ago. Jack Brigham, a member of the town selectboard, made the effort to strike a deal with the city over water allocations in 2009, but his efforts fell prey to the litigiousness of the selectboard, which preferred combat to compromise. He left the board discouraged.
For decades we’ve followed this same trail of inertia that has led nowhere. [This newspaper has fol- lowed this story line for more than four decades and this editor has written countless editorials lamenting the inability of the city and town to work together. The response was always: “Not in your lifetime will that happen.”]
Well, it has happened.
Why now? What has changed? People. Nothing more. The circumstances are the same today as they were a decade ago, and the decades before. The only thing that has changed is the people leading. Today, we had the right people, at the right time, with the right messages and the right motivation. It’s their victory.
Mr. Brigham is to be given much credit for persevering. He could have given up after his 2009 experience, but he didn’t. He built a bridge of trust between the town selectboard and the city council. Much credit goes to Town Manager Carrie Johnson, who will now slip into retirement knowing she has left the Town of St. Albans in a better place. And credit goes to City Manager Dominic Cloud for staying the course, providing a sensible plan forward that balances the needs of the city with the needs of the town. Credit goes to Mr. Cloud, Mayors Tim Smith and Ms. Gamache, and the city councils over the past decade-and-a-half for building a city that’s the envy of Vermont, and one the town now joins as part of “greater St. Albans.”
With this agreement there is little of any importance that separates how the city and town govern. The schools in the city and town are run by the Maple Run School District. Recreation between the two municipalities is a cooperative effort. Policing will be a joint exercise. There will no longer be a difference between how water and sewer services are delivered.
What’s left? Not much. Both have their own fire departments, which is not a concern. They could combine efforts to better market the area, but that’s part of the historic nature of the agreement. No longer will one municipality or the other use basic services - like sewer and water or policing - to their advantage when seeking companies to locate here. We can both focus on what can be done to make what we have better.
We are only as good as those who lead us, which means looking beyond self-interest to what ben-efits the community as a whole. It was that leadership that gave us what Mr. Cloud termed the “grand bargain between the two communities.”
Let the history books show that this week’s agreement buries 126 years of bitterness, division and inefficiency. Let the history books show that this week’s agreement offers “greater St. Albans” a better way forward.
By Emerson Lynn