Editorial, Burlington Free Press

Monday, October 04, 2004

In 1896, St. Albans City and St. Albans Town split apart because of increasing differences over urban-rural issues, such as fire protection. The developed city core had greater demands than its country neighbors who didn't think they should foot the bill for the folks downtown.

Today, the city and town are seeing the benefits of working together. Last week, St. Albans City Council and the Selectboard of St. Albans Town held what they saw as a historic meeting to discuss sharing services, such as fire protection and police. They plan to study the feasibility of integrating their public safety services to avoid duplication and potentially save taxpayers some money.

This kind of cooperative effort will be needed in coming years as St. Albans faces regional growth and change.

Wal-Mart is knocking on the town's door, and there are justifiable concerns about the giant discounter's effect on the city's downtown. There are also major transportation and redevelopment projects looming in both the town and city.

As the two communities re-examine themselves, they might discover that discarding the old town and city boundaries will improve the prospects of both.

As it stands, St. Albans City provides services such as water, sewer and recreation programs to the town residents. The town shares certain facilities and access to the lake with the city.

St. Albans City, with 7,700 people, has a police force of 15 officers and St. Albans Town, with 5,500, has a contract with the Sheriff's Department for a number of hours. The joint study will look at a round-the-clock police force to cover the two communities and a central fire department. The city has 13 full-time firefighters and volunteers, and the town relies on volunteers. There also would be the potential to better integrate the transportation plans of the city and town.

Meanwhile, the proposal for a 147,000-square-foot Wal-Mart on the edge of town is moving through the regulatory hoops. At the same time, the Preservation Trust of Vermont has produced an innovative alternative proposal for a smaller Wal-Mart downtown on a parking lot behind Main Street. It is worth considering.

City officials have already slated the site for a retail and office complex as part of their downtown improvement plans. Whatever is decided about Wal-Mart, they say, the project will proceed.

As St. Albans grapples with its future, a trusted collaboration between town and city will be critical.

It's time the old battles of 1896 were set aside.