beattie drunsic parking

Manchester Select Board Chairman Ivan Beattie, left, and business owner Bill Drunsic, right, look at plans to revamp the town parking lot during the board's Sept. 6 meeting, while board member Heidi Chamberlain looks on. The board will hear more about the plan Tuesday. 

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MANCHESTER — A busy agenda awaits the Manchester Select Board for its 7 p.m. meeting Tuesday night, including an update on dispatch services that the town's Police Department might be able to offer its neighbors, and what that might cost up front. 

With state police dispatch focusing on its core mission to serve that agency, the town has been considering whether it should offer dispatch services to neighboring law enforcement and emergency agencies that would pay for that service.

It would likely require a needed update of the dispatch console at the town public safety facility, and possibly more employees taking emergency calls. 

Interim Town Manager Leslie Perra said Police Chief Patrick J. Owens will make a presentation on the topic.

"We want to get [the board] informed about all of this," she said. 

Manchester, as one of three full-time municipal Police Departments in Bennington County — Bennington and Winhall are the other two — has a full-time dispatch center which also handles calls for the Northshire Rescue Squad and Manchester Fire Department.

Former Public Safety Commissioner Michael Schirling said on June 8 that state police dispatch, in light of staffing challenges, would be "taking necessary steps to preserve the core functions of our communications centers."

On Monday, asked if the state is pondering consolidating its dispatch centers or reducing service to town agencies, state police spokesman Adam Silverman said no such plans are on the table at present. 

"Nothing is certain as of yet. [The state police is] still moving forward researching a path forward for centralized centers and possible grant funding, but this is down the road," Silverman said. "Vermont State Police has no current plans of dropping municipal agencies soon."

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That said, Manchester is preparing to "help our neighbors if we have capacity," Perra said. "We're still getting cost estimates. But it's going to be expensive."

Among other updates expected Tuesday night are cost estimates for drainage and landscaping improvements to the much-maligned town parking lot behind Walgreens, and an update on whether efforts to jump-start the Main Street sewer extension can move forward with town money. 

The board might be asked Tuesday whether to move forward with the sewer extension, which is time-sensitive, given current housing construction on Main Street. That would require shortening the first phase of the sewer extension by about half, and borrowing about $500,000 from a Sewer Department capital fund to pay for it up front.  

"There is housing, and there is land available for housing out there. It needs public sewer," Perra said.

The parking solution, brokered by Main Street business owner Bill Drunsic, would see the town and The Keelan Co. split the cost of drainage, paving and landscaping to make the parking lot usable. At present, given slow drainage and plenty of water coming off the Walgreens roof, the lot is in rough shape.

At the board's last meeting, Drunsic cited an estimate of $341,000. Perra said she hopes to have firmer figures for the board Tuesday night. 

In a related development, the board also will hear an update on efforts to strategize for the town's Depot Street property. The town's lease with Manchester Designer Outlets expires on April 1, and an ad-hoc committee has been meeting to discuss whether the town should sell the property or redevelop it as a mixed-use, mixed-income housing development — possibly with the town offices as a tenant. 

Perra, who took over for her predecessor, John O'Keefe, on Sept. 6, said she's approaching these initiatives and others methodically, while continuing her primary role as town human resources and operations manager. 

"We have a lot of open projects. My goal is to get them on agendas and get them closed one at a time. And it will take some time," Perra said. "Every project is important to someone. So we need to give each the attention it deserves."

Greg Sukiennik covers government and politics for Vermont News & Media. Reach him at gsukiennik@benningtonbanner.com.

Greg Sukiennik has worked at all three Vermont News & Media newspapers and was their managing editor from 2017-19. He previously worked for ESPN.com, for the AP in Boston, and at The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Mass.


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