News Briefs
October 16, 2015

News Briefs: Rutland Region

By Lani Duke

Louras nixes “wet” shelter downtown

The aldermen concurred with mayor Chris Louras in objecting to the installation of a “wet” shelter downtown. BROC-Community Action in Southwest Vermont had proposed opening a “low-barrier” shelter in that crucial corner of the city’s core at 45 Union Street. Louras objected to a new facility agreeing to take in anyone capable of “walking in under their own power.”

Saying that the need for such a shelter remains “unproven,” Louras said there has been insufficient community input and that placing a shelter in that site has potential to damage downtown’s continued economic health. He noted that the city has supported a methadone clinic and numerous transitional housing for recently incarcerated individuals, but that a low-barrier shelter for homeless individuals with substance abuse problems should be located farther from downtown and include mandated support services.

Louras also pointed out that state data had identified needs for services to homeless families and domestic violence victims, but not the need for one targeting the homeless who are currently chemically impaired.

The aldermen voted unanimously to have him draft a resolution of their support in a letter to Vermont Secretary of Human Services Hal Cohen, in which the mayor wrote that Rutland already has “established an appropriate level of success and credibility” arising from “strong partnerships with the state, open and transparent community engagement and clearly demonstrated need.”

BROC executive director Carol Flint, however, objected to Louras’ characterization of the organization’s planned homeless shelter, saying planning was in too early a stage to determine what structure such an effort would take. According to Cohen, Vermont would prefer to find another model for sheltering the state’s homeless than the current hotel room voucher approach, which he said is expensive and ineffective, lacking access to services.

During the 2014-2015 winter, 104 individuals received emergency vouchers in Rutland, Cohen said. He cited a Burlington homeless shelter in which social workers helped 17 residents find jobs with the thought that such a pattern might work in Rutland, too. Sometimes, the relationships formed in a shelter are key to connecting residents with services, contributed Sean Brown, Vermont Department for Children and Families deputy commissioner.

Flint is convinced that a shelter in the BROC building could work, wanting to try the Union Street site with an entrance on Pine Street, with the option of moving the shelter if that location proves to be a problem.

Louras remains skeptical, describing the idea as “the wrong plan, in the wrong place, with the wrong partners.”

VT-Alert

Rutland City mayor Chris Louras plans to enroll the city in the state emergency notification program VT-Alert. Initiated in 2013, the organization notifies signed-up individuals and other entities of civic emergencies, severe weather, and other significant occurrences. Participants may set the type of notification they receive: email, phone call, or text or pager message, and the specific geographic area of concern, whether by town or by county. School districts may report snow days, state or municipality may report road closures, etc.

New solar array construction

GroSolar plans to begin construction on the solar array it plans for the former Rutland poor farm property off Gleason Road. The firm has held a lease on the land with the city since 2013, confirming its permits during 2014, with plans to clear brush by the end of October. Although the company had agreed to start its lease payments with the city when the project came online, it has offered to pay rent for the time period since the beginning of the year, the date when the company had planned to begin the project. The city already has a $5,000 payment from GroSolar, paid to option the property, which is being applied to the first year payment of $16,692. The project hold-up originated in financing delays and the number of similar projects the company had in progress this year.

Rutland Town begins construction of highway garage

Rutland Town’s new 5,700-square-foot highway department garage is in site preparation stage, with the clearing of a 0.9-acre woodlot in Northwood Park. Most of the standing pines were to be converted to wood pulp although higher-value trees were marked for large-piece removal.

Although the Select Board approved a $593,678 contract to build the garage, the original design and bid failed to include a sprinkler system. That presents an irony to local observers. (The town has pressured Bennington Furniture to install a sprinkler system against owner objections to the expense.)

Completing an operating sprinkler system as part of the garage is not as simple as it may seem. The site’s low water pressure bars using existing piping to supply sprinklers and necessitates an alternative source for sprinkler water. One proposed supply is that of planning to hook a pumper truck into a stem pump on site. Another vote to cover the increased cost appears to be necessary.

Project design includes an office, restroom, kitchenette, utility room, and water storage tank, as well as a storm water retention pond (outdoors).

WIC program changes from drop-off to pick-out

Moms in Vermont’s Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) food supplement program will have the opportunity to choose the foods they receive rather than finding a filled cardboard box of pre-selected items on their doorsteps. The “eWIC” card enables them to purchase dairy, whole grains, and other foods from local grocery outlets.

Recipients had complained for years that the supplemental foods they received far too often contained items that they would not or could not use. Those supplies often wound up in trash bins rather than providing nutrients to the infants and toddlers they were intended for. Orange juice, milk, and boxed cereals were frequently among the rejects.

A federal mandate had required the shift to cards by 2020, with the stated intent of trimming fraud from the program. Only Vermont and Mississippi had been delivering the additional foods by truck; the other 48 states had been giving WIC recipients a check, which could then be cashed. Rutland County has been utilizing the card method in a feasibility test since June, and statewide conversion is scheduled to be complete by April 2016.

The eWIC cards differ from EBT cards in that they dictate the amount of food available to recipients by food group and volume: practical math in the shopping cart . . . or maybe impractical math, in that food bought at the retail level has a higher per-unit price than that bought in volume, the former method.

Lowered accessibility may be a hindrance to the program. At least some of the recipients may need assistance in getting to and from a grocery. However, recipients who are homeless or “just staying with” somebody seem likely to benefit. Bulk food will not need to be transported to a next temporary residence. Food isn’t left outside, where it can be rained or snowed on, frozen, spoiled, or stolen.

Casella Waste Management: the hazards of going public

Casella Waste Management, Vermont’s largest trash transporter, may face new management after the company’s annual meeting on Nov. 6. After buying 5.7 percent of the company’s stock, JCP Investment Partnership, LP, of Houston, Texas, is lobbying for shareholders to support a management candidate slate that would replace chairman and CEO John Casella.

JCP managing member James Pappas, who is the candidate to replace John Casella, claims that the Casella company is undervalued due to mismanagement by its current chairman. Pappas has stated his position in an open letter to shareholders and on the website www.fixcasella.com. He cites falling stock prices, not enough profits, and fiscal mismanagement. The Casella family has built both the waste management company and the construction company from scratch, beginning in 1978. The company is a significant donor to the local community. Defenders of Casella’s reputation are many and vocal.

Condolences

to the family and friends of West Rutland’s Joseph Czachor. He was instrumental in creating and funding the memorial to West Rutland’s World War II veterans, dedicated in August. Owner and operator of Joe’s Garage in West Rutland, he was also a great cook, especially known for his golumpki cabbage rolls.

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