There is an honest debate emerging between the old guard in the town — made up, in part, of past selectboard members — and those trying to reimagine the future, a future that values working together more than working separately, and a future with a clear eye on what it takes to make our communities stronger, more prosperous, and healthier.
There was a time, and it wasn’t that long ago, that the City of St. Albans and the Town of St. Albans fought just for the sake of fighting, or so it seemed. It was politically perilous for someone from the town to be seen as being friendly to any joint initiative proposed by the city. And the city had its own issues that did not invite compromise.
That animosity began to fade as court battles were settled and as voters began to see more advantages in togetherness than in being separate. We now have the city and town overseen by the same police force. There is a collaboration with fire protection. Our schools are now in the same school district. We’ve hammered out livable arrangements with sewer and water. We act as a “greater St. Albans” when it comes to economic development. The people in St. Albans Town are just as proud of the transformation of the city’s downtown as the people in the city are. And city voters go to Walmart.
This cooperative environment took decades to put in place, but it happened, and both municipalities are the better for it. It’s a position forced by voters in both municipalities — they asked for leadership that would put the past in the past. They wanted to go forward.
But there’s a bit of the past that won’t let go, motivated in part by nostalgia, motivated in part by wanting to be part of the fight they didn’t want to let go of.
That’s part of what we’re seeing with the old guard taking aim at the proposed city/town community pool and the funds generated by the local option tax. In their minds the pool doesn’t qualify as being part of the “infrastructure” the local option tax money was intended to fund.
That, of course, depends on how you define infrastructure, which can mean hard assets like buildings, roads and bridges, or infrastructure in a social sense, things that are built to bring people together, things that serve a social need.
In a sense, the community pool being proposed at Hard’ack is a bit of both. It’s a hard asset that could be around every bit as long as any road or bridge, and, it serves as something socially meaningful for the members of both communities. It’s something that addresses the winter isolation. It’s something that addresses the public’s health needs. And it’s an amenity that could help convince people and businesses to make this a place to live and work.
It’s a safe bet that a community pool would add more to our communities’ long term prosperity — in all senses of the word — than most other “infrastructure” needs being considered.
This is the vision being supported by a majority of the town’s select board and members of the city council. For good reason. If, as the governor notes, our number one issue in Vermont is a population in decline, then it behooves us to figure out ways to make ourselves more inviting to people beyond our borders.
There are few, if any, communities in Vermont that have a Hard’ack in their midst, a place in the middle of our two communities that has a ski hill, [with a new warming hut], fields to play soccer, a world-class cross country course, and hiking trails. To build a year-around swimming pool facility is the sort of sports/family/social “infrastructure” that would distinguish us as the forward-looking community we have become.
The quality of our social infrastructure needs to be as powerful as any road or bridge or salt shed could ever be. But this isn’t a debate about setting aside one for the other. Both are within our budget needs. Both are within the wheelhouse of communities interested in being better and doing things together. For both communities, it’s about building ourselves up.
So let’s understand the debate for what it is, and let’s look forward, not backward.
by Emerson Lynn