On January 26, 2016

News Briefs: Rutland Region

By Lani Duke

Rutland County

New PEGTV show tests high school learning with quizshow

A new PEGTV show pits high school teams against each other in a competition covering the entire high school curriculum except math. “Academic Showdown” is scheduled to air once a week for 30 minutes on channel 20; it debuts Thursday, Feb. 25, at 7 p.m. Questions come from National Academic Quiz Tournaments, according to PEGTV program development coordinator Missi Delehanty. Hosting the program is Mitch Golub, a member of PEGTV’s programming committee and Vermont Achievement Center director. Participating schools are Fair Haven Union High School, Mill River Union High School, Mount St. Joseph Academy, Otter Valley Union High School, Proctor High School, Rutland Area Christian School, Rutland High School and West Rutland High School. Each school uses its own criteria for selecting its three-student team plus one alternate.

Rutland City

Aldermen’s election taking form

The first Tuesday in March falls on March 1, Vermont’s annual Town Meeting Day, when local voters choose their select boards, town officials, and aldermen. Alderman Board electees William Notte, David Allaire, and Sharon Davis all have said they intend to seek re-election; but Jon Skates recently resigned, Christopher Siliski has announced he will not run again this time, and Gary Donahue has said he is undecided. He has been unhappy with the board’s inaction on the city pension fund deficit.

Citizens who are considering putting their toes in the aldermanic election waters still have a little time to pick up their petition forms, obtain 35 registered city voter signatures, and turn them in. The deadline is 5 p.m., Monday, Jan. 25.

Pre-K expansion

Expanding the pre-K program at Rutland Public Schools accounts for close to 50 new pupils and an expenditure increase of close to $1 million. Officials believe that the city education tax rate will actually decrease, however, down by nearly 4 cents. Next year’s per-pupil costs will be about $14,405.

Although the district’s projected per-student costs are 1.4 percent higher than those of the current year, RPS chief financial officer Peter Amons anticipates the base education tax rate will shrink, driven down by $21 million in the state’s education fund and a growing property tax base. His calculations place next year’s homestead education tax rate in Rutland at $1.544, less than the current $1.5841. As approved, the budget remains within the Act 46-regulated spending caps.

This latest budget lists 26 fewer jobs than anticipated. Nearly 20 paraprofessionals were not hired; retirements and resignations are expected to continue pulling the number of staff down. The board is currently optimistic that no one will need to be laid off.

The upcoming year’s tuition rates are also now on paper. A district sending an elementary student to RPS will pay $9,400 per student, up from the current $9,100. A district sending a student to RPS in grades 7 through 12 will pay $14,500 per pupil, up $500 over the current rate.

At its January 12 meeting, the board could not approve contracts further into the future because available Affordable Care Act health care plan costs beyond that point have not been released. Negotiating teacher contracts remains further in the future, too.

REDC embarks on “listening tour”

Rutland Economic Development Corp. leaders met with the Rutland Town Select Board to explore opportunities and obstacles for the community, the first of similar meetings with town leaders across the county. REDC Executive Director Lyle Jepson and Assistant Director Tyler Richardson took part in the Jan. 12 meeting, as did Rutland Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donahue.

Among the topics they covered were the turmoil over building a BJ’s Wholesale Club and the changes in tenancy at Diamond Run Mall, as well as the new relationship between REDC and Castleton University. Castleton now holds a contract to administer REDC and has moved the development organization’s offices into the school’s offices at the Opera House in downtown Rutland, but REDC remains “its own organization,” with its own revolving loan fund, board, and committee structure, Jepson said. To attract or develop higher paying jobs, Rutland needs workforce training and area college graduate retention, he believes.

Adding Castleton’s resources to its tool bag enables REDC to grow a “diverse portfolio of small businesses,” Jepson promoted. Small business owners complain that they can not find the highly-trained workforce they need to grow.

REDC continues to support the planned BJ’s Wholesale Club, still tied up in litigation. As the town encourages development along the Business Route 4A corridor, the relatively new 9L provision is likely to be a stumbling block, Donahue projected. However, the new $1.8 million water and sewer connection project provides invaluable incentive for development if a 9L workaround materializes.

Agriculture is another growing portion of the Rutland Town economic picture, Selectman Mary Ashcroft observed, and mixed use other than commercial and industrial may relieve the 9L strictures. She brought small-scale residential development and enhancement for trails and bike transportation into the discussion.

Petition protocol undergoes scrutiny

RUTLAND TOWN—When town clerks receive their job training, they are instructed to cross a registered voter’s name off petitions when the name appears on a second petition. The state believes a voter can only sign the nomination petition for a single candidate, and nullifies his or her signature on a petition for a second candidate. Town Clerk Donna Zeller had stricken three names from a Select Board candidate’s petition.

However, Rutland Town Selectman John Paul Faignant and Town Attorney Kevin Brown disagree. They say restricting voters to signing only a single petition limits their voting rights.

Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters has said that Zeller’s interpretation has been considered to be an appropriate interpretation of state law since “at least 1992.”

Westway Mall gets new owner

WEST RUTLAND—Due diligence is complete to allow new owners to acquire Westway Mall after the end of January. Edward McCormack and his family have owned the 26.41-acre property since the early 1970s. At one time, Richard Sullivan and William Medlin were also part of the ownership group. Town listers appraise the mall for $2,636,500. It seems likely that last summer’s water and sewer-line construction into Rutland Town may provide extra incentive to bringing on more interest in West Rutland’s western gateway shopping area.

New Cumberland Farms on the drawing board

WALLINGFORD—Expanded retail space and additional gas pumping capacity is the upcoming result when Cumberland Farms replaces its existing Wallingford store. The company has filed an application to demolish its current building, erecting a new one with half-again as much retail space plus an additional gas pump.

Although the store’s 302 N. Main St. (Route 7) footprint will not increase, the retail sales area will grow from 2,112 square feet to 3,232. Vehicles may get fuel from three pumps instead of two, with the third possibly dispensing diesel fuel. The platting shows 20 parking spaces, including the six in use while customers utilize the fuel pumps. One space is designed to be handicapped accessible, complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Nor does the design ignore the needs of pedestrian traffic but allows for easy access for people on foot. It takes advantage of fresh Vermont air too, with an outdoor eating area. Aesthetics come into play as well; the current industrial style is to give way to a more “colonial” appearance, a better fit with downtown Wallingford. The proposed reconstruction comes up for Development Review Board vetting January 29.

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