City financial status, rezoning for business development, and more
Here's a brief rundown of the actions we took at the March meeting of the Bennington City Council:
Reviewed the city's 2019-2020 fiscal year audit. Bennington is coming out of the pandemic in a strong and stable financial position. We have a cash reserve equal to nine months of operating costs (our auditor recommends at least six months), and our debt ratio is effectively 3% (below the 5% that can be a cause for concern). Throughout the early part of the pandemic, sales tax revenue actually increased, likely due to a combination of local buying and online shopping (causing increased remittances to Bennington from the state). Later in the year, sales tax returned to more normal levels.
Refinanced the city's existing bonds at a lower interest rate, saving an estimated $83,000.
Rezoned the vacant lot at 156th and Warehouse streets for commercial development. The owner of this property, Joan Olson, also built the new office building on the northeast corner of 156th and Warehouse streets. Business development aligns with the city's established plans for this area.
Gave final approval for the addition of 37 homes in the Heritage subdivision at the end of Rainwood Road.
Gave first-round approval to regulations governing the deployment of small-cell, commonly referred to as 5G, devices in the city's jurisdiction. These regulations align with those approved by other cities and towns throughout the metro area.
Gave first-round approval for extending the franchise agreement with Cox Communications for delivering cable TV services in Bennington. Cox pays about $23,000 annually for the rights to deliver these services in Bennington, an amount that decreases as fewer people subscribe to cable.
Amended the city code to allow small utility vehicles, or UTVs, on city streets. These vehicles, commonly used by the baseball club and the school district, are subject to the same regulations as golf carts; for example, drivers must be insured and follow all traffic laws.
Authorized the purchase of an industrial woodchipper. Purchased with grant funding secured by the director of public works, the woodchipper will allow Bennington to take care of its own tree debris and provide mulch for city residents.
Approved partial payment of a contract with DLR group for developing a concept of the new parkland and potential recreational facility south of Bennington Road at Johns-Bohn Park. The ambitious scope of the initial concept raises some hard questions about what's feasible and who can and should fund it. I think the next step is for the city to more clearly define its roles in each phase of the project. For example, regarding soccer and football fields and other outdoor amenities, it is clearly feasible for the city to partner with clubs to help build and maintain those; that's what we do now with existing parkland. An indoor field house would require more charitable support or additional partners, and a more elaborate indoor facility would be more challenging still. That said, we can't rule out any ideas until we get more specific about the resources required. We should think long-term, too: The way the land is developed now will either allow or limit possibilities 10 and 20 years from now.