By Lani Duke
Where does the water go?
About half the water the Rutland city water plant treats seems to disappear. Of the average 2 million gallons of drinking water the city processes every day, only about half appears on billing statements, Public Works Commissioner Jeff Wennberg commented Nov. 17.
Popular belief had attributed the loss to leaks in a water system that is, in places, more than a century old, but a recent intensive leak survey examined 48 percent of the system to find some 100,000 gallons a day lost to leakage, nowhere near the expected half million.
Wennberg believes that buildings owned by the city and school district may be where loss is taking place. Because they receive no bill for the water they use, they have not been metered. He cites the example of unmetered White Pool, losing 48,000 gallons a day before it was shut down. Without meters, there seems no way to tell if a given building is losing an undue amount of water.
Some older meters may well have lost their calibration and not register all the water that flows through them, Wennberg also noted. The 2016-2017 water and sewer budget includes $25,000 set aside for additional meters, an amount great enough to provide meters for those buildings that have not had them before.
With aging equipment, city must plan for costly replacements
Not only are many of the city’s water pipes in need of replacement, but so are many of the vehicles owned the Department of Public Works. Of the 57 in the department inventory, 33 have exceeded their projected lifespan. The eldest of the over-aged is a Sicard Junior snowblower that has been working for the city since 1965, and with most of its parts intact. As long as it continues to work, the city will continue to use it, knowing that coming up with funds to replace it may not come easy, if at all. A new one would cost $375,000. The city does intend to replace a 1998 five-ton dump truck, that has been scheduled for replacement for at least the last two years, but cut from the budget each time.
Aldermen urged to budget safety management position
The annual struggle over the budget continues with the consideration of two new positions, a safety/risk management officer and an assistant forester. A third position that didn’t make this year’s budget list is that of city electrician. Mayor Chris Louras believes there is enough work for a full-time electrician at the wastewater plant alone.
Explaining the push for a safety officer, Alderman Ed Larson said that the Vermont League of Cities and Towns (VLCT) is urging members to hire someone with “safety oversight and familiarity with VOSHA and OSHA” to trim claims and set up a safety training program that would result in lower insurance rates. Premiums paid into the VLCT-administered municipal insurance program were almost completely used up in claims.
Although city departments may have individual safety training opportunities, the city as a whole lacks a coordinated safety program. Fred Satink, VLCT loss control supervisor, described the city’s current safety efforts as a “very disjointed mish-mash of departments doing their own thing.” A safety officer would not only examine department practices but engage in contract review, working closely with the city attorney. Potentially, creating and filling such a position would save the city $200,000 a year, Satink predicted Nov. 19. Not creating and filling the position will drive insurance rates up next year, Louras projected.
Although the committee eventually approved including the post in the city budget, some aldermen are wondering how many department heads a city the size of Rutland can afford or needs.
City school positions to be cut, avoiding Act 46 caps
Most of the staff reductions in the Rutland City Public School system are in the area of special education, with 19 fewer special ed paraeducators than last year. In all, the district will employ 26 fewer people in the upcoming year than was budgeted for the current year. The district has been moving away from paraeducator-reliant delivery in favor of co-teaching, with the result that 14 of those reductions are already made. In addition, the district intends to delete a special ed teacher working at both Northeast and Northwest elementary schools as well as a special educator at Rutland Intermediate.
Other staff losses include a total of seven other teachers: one in early education; one primary teacher each from Northwest, Northeast, Rutland Intermediate and Rutland Middle School; and two from Rutland High. Most of these losses are due to retirements, according to Superintendent Mary Moran, although shrinking enrollments and state revenues leads her to tell new hires that Vermont education contains “no job security.” Indeed, the school district has been consistently downsizing over several years. In all, the district has diminished its workforce by 28 since the 2011-2012 academic year.
The district’s chief financial officer, Peter Amons, assured the school board at its Nov. 24 meeting that the proposed budget will avoid triggering Act 46 spending caps. But the decrease in the budget is driven by shrinking enrollment, not the caps, Moran commented.
Adding to the mysterious world of education budgets is the concept of “equalization.” It relies on the principle that delivering education costs less when students are in pre-kindergarten, but more when they are in secondary school, from economically deprived backgrounds, or when their first language is not English.
The expansion in pre-kindergarten programming, $722,760, has a “marginally positive or neutral” effect on the tax rate, Amons related, since these students cost the least to educate. As expenses are averaged on a per-pupil basis the numbers work out for taxpayers, although the proposed budget is 1.9 percent higher, $923,083, than the previous year.
As a whole, Vermont public school enrollment has been shrinking since the mid-1990s, and numbers of equalized pupils are also shrinking in all but 32 towns in the state. Pittsfield is the only town in Rutland County with an increase in equalized pupils over the 2003-2013 decade.
Work on the budget will continue through the coming month, with ratification scheduled for the board’s January 12 meeting, on track to be presented to voters on Town Meeting Day in March.
Act 46 hampers RSSU
Act 46 spending caps are making budgeting difficult for both the Mill River Union High and Clarendon school officials working to construct a workable budget for the next school year. To avoid the pinch, Mill River’s finance committee must cut $640,000 from its budget, unless voters approve a consolidation ballot item on Town Meeting Day in March. Without consolidation, taxpayers might face a projected 17-cent tax rate increase.
Clarendon is in a somewhat similar predicament. The law relies on the district’s previous year’s spending to determine that it can spend less than 1 percent more per student than last year, but health insurance promises to be 7.9 percent more in spite of lower student enrollment. However, the school’s abundance of veteran, higher-paid teachers may be a bonus, as offering them accelerated retirement may provide a way out or at least counterbalance the undoubtedly increased costs coming out of upcoming staff and teacher contract negotiations.
Community rallies behind fire-devastated farm
On Tuesday, Nov. 24, a fast-moving fire at the Chambers Farm in North Clarendon destroyed three buildings, equipment, and the trailer home of the family matriarch, who had moved there temporarily after the loss several years ago of the family’s Victorian-era farmhouse to a lightning strike. The Chamberses have been switching over to organic meat production, and the fire gutted the meat-processing shed and a walk-in cooler filled with pork, beef and chicken. Customers, friends and neighbors may contribute to a crowd-source donation site, gofundme.com/99bvaerg. The goal is to raise $15,000. Thanks to all supporters and about 50 firefighters from Clarendon, Rutland Town, West Rutland, Pittsford, Shrewsbury, Wallingford, Danby, and Mount Holly who helped to put the fire out.
Congratulations . . .
to Stafford Tech Center seniors Abigail Wright and Jonah Farrow, whose excellence in their career training won them positions among Vermont’s 24 nominees to the U.S. Presidential Scholars program.
to the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link (RAFFL) on being awarded $3,500 by People’s United Community Foundation, the philanthropic arm of People’s United Bank. RAFFL intends to use the funds to put nutritious produce into the hands of people in need.
to Roger Kimball for donating the 20-foot Rutland City Christmas tree.
to the Downtown Rutland Partnership for sponsoring the annual winter film series at the Paramount Theatre on consecutive Tuesdays at 7 p.m.
to all who have contributed warm, new or lightly used cold weather coats and snow suits for the annual Coats for Kids give away, coming up Dec. 5 in the Immaculate Heart of Mary gym.
to all who donated supplies and effort for Thanksgiving lunch at the Open Door Mission, where 15 turkeys, 100 pounds of mashed potatoes, 75 pounds each of stuffing and butternut squash casserole, and other foods fed an expected 150+ individuals November 25. Thanks too to the Loyal Order of Moose No. 1122 for the community meal it served November 26.