ST. ALBANS – A year ago, St. Albans Town and St. Albans City were opposing litigants in a lawsuit, but just this week, leaders from both communities told the Messenger they were ready to put the animosity behind them and work together for St. Albans as a whole.
St. Albans City Mayor Tim Smith and town selectboard chair Brendan Deso approached the Messenger to talk about the future of the municipalities’ relationship, a complicated interconnection where public works departments already collaborate, but where municipal officials would find themselves in opposite ends of a court room.
But both Smith and Deso were immediately able to list the places the town and city already work together: they share the city’s police force, their public works departments and fire departments collaborate, they’re both partners on the Route 7 pedestrian study, etc.
Just last month, Deso pointed out, the town Dept. of Public Works saw two of its vehicles taken out of work for maintenance issues, only to have the city loan a vehicle to the town to make up for those losses.
Above all of that, however, hung an ongoing dispute between the town and city over access to the city’s municipal sewage infrastructure.
For decades now, the city and town had sparred with one another over access to a municipal wastewater system built by the city. More than one lawsuit had been brought to court over the city’s regulation of its wastewater system, with the courts dismissing the latest suit last December.
“I went from being a planning commission appointee to a selectboard chair in a little less than three years, and they were just watching that dark cloud lifted off of St. Albans,” Deso said. “It seemed like an issue that bled into operations… It just hung over us.”
“The court case is behind us, and I think that limited the amount of the interaction,” Smith said. “I think in general, the willingness may not have been there because we were sort of waiting on the outcome… and I say we as in both the city and town.”
“We might have a material disagreement on water and sewer, but it’s not being litigated, and that opens the door for the city manager and the town manager to collaborate without lawyers being present,” Deso said.
The irony, both noted, was that it was only in the political realm that anyone makes the distinction between town and city.
“We are the only ones who comment that we’re St. Albans City or Town,” Smith said. “It’s just us in that circle who carry that torch.”
“We cross each other’s borders every day… and not very many people notice it,” Deso mused. “We get people all the time who say ‘I showed up at your City Hall in your downtown and they said come down here to the Bay.’”
Those ties ran deep, the two suggested. Town residents worked in Mylan and city residents worked in the town’s industrial park, and they shop in both the town and the city, they noted.
They share a school district, and when residents talk about a trip to the city’s downtown or the town’s St. Albans Bay Park, they’re not thinking about the town-city line, they said.
Neither are floating any major projects between the town and city, only that, with litigation behind them and with some changing leadership in especially the town, there was now a chance for the two municipalities to bridge some of the animosities incurred by their fight over water and sewer.
That’s why both Mayor Smith and Chairperson Deso told the Messenger they were going to suggest a possible joint meeting between the city council and the town’s selectboard sometime in the close future.
“Let’s see what we can start,” Deso said. “It might take a year before we realize any material success out of any one particular direction we decide to take out of a meeting like that, but it’s more than we’d get done by being apart.”
“I’m not looking for some huge success,” Smith said. “Let’s start small. Let’s have some successes we can build off of and go from there.”
Off the cuff, they suggested sidewalks as a possibility. The two municipalities could cosign on grants, making their applications stronger. They could work out a maintenance plan for winter. They could plan together and tie their pedestrian infrastructure together more tightly.
It could save money, Deso suggested, and would help realize the town’s popular sidewalk plans.
They could also market St. Albans as a single community together, the two leaders suggested.
“To do this in isolation just doesn’t make sense,” Smith said.
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