On April 13, 2016

Rutland Region News Briefs

by Lani Dukes

Infrastructure plans

The Southwestern Vermont Council on Aging hopes to buy and renovate the former Maple Terrace assisted living facility, 143 Maple St., with the goal of turning it into the organization’s new permanent offices. SVCA recently asked for a $300,000 Vermont Community Development Program grant toward that end; both the Rutland Redevelopment Authority and the Rutland Regional Planning Commission are behind the proposal.

The Rutland Free Library recently asked the city to endorse a Vermont Arts Council grant to upgrade Library restrooms from residential to commercial status, meeting Americans with Disabilities Act standards and said to increase safety in ensuring the building is a drug-free environment.

Mourning Michael J. Valentine

Former PEGTV director Michael J. Valentine died Friday after a long illness. He had retired from the organization in May, citing health reasons. Before taking on the community access TV leadership, Valentine graduated from then Castleton State College and worked in local radio. He was also a volunteer trainer for seeing-eye dog training, Guiding Eyes Vermont.

Biz bits

Death or Glory Tattoo Co. has opened at 74 Merchants Row downtown. The storefront business settles into space formerly occupied by BodyTech Nutrition.

Production and storage plus customers needed

Production space, storage space, and a wider customer base top the list of Rutland area farmers’ needs in a 85-respondent survey conducted by the Rutland Area Farm and Food Link. Some 30 farm, business, and non-profit representatives discussed the survey results, took part in a discussion on building customer loyalty, and attended a “Farmer & Friends” mixer as part of a March 24 agricultural forum.

Some farmers wondered whether their production has already saturated the local market. Can  education increase the number of local customers, or should farmers instead seek to expand their geographic reach? Bureaucracy entanglements seem to obstruct getting local produce into school lunch programs, but the Vermont Farmers Food Center is developing an aggregator approach, buying from farms to resell to the Rutland City school system.

Another obstacle is new regulations on farms that are intended to keep polluted runoff out of Lake Champlain. Kevin Smith of Marble Valley Engineering proposed identifying marketable products that can be grown in river buffer zones. One possibility is perennial grasses to harvest for biomass production; a second is using the affected land for solar panel siting, according to Ellen Kahler, executive director of the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund.

Other difficulties mentioned are competition of inexpensive food grown on industrial farms in California and the difficulties in training and retaining labor.

Downtown student housing discussed

Mark Foley told the city Development Review Board some specifics of plans to convert the upper two floors of his building at the corner of West and Grove streets to student housing for Castleton students. A new elevator will provide access to 16 “suite-style apartments” containing one to four bedrooms, housing 40 students. Siding will come down with the facade restored to its original brick.

Foley noted that he has already made parking arrangements with several surface lots and plans to speak to more, with the possibility of using the downtown parking deck as well.

“The structure’s third floor has been vacant for 30 years,” Foley observed. “The second floor has hosted numerous tenants, but not for several years.”

Shifting the culture

Organizers of the 2016 Walk/Bike Summit hope its goals will change societal attitudes to the point that individuals meet more of their transportation needs on foot or two-wheeled transportation.  Held April 1 and 2 in the Paramount Theatre (Friday) and Community College of Vermont (Saturday), it was cosponsored by the Green Mountain Association of Realtors and offered education credit for members who attended.

Vermont Realtors Education Director Helen Hossley noted that looking at transportation is “a relatively new conversation to bring to the Realtor group.” Realtors are encouraged to look at the community at large rather than individual pieces of property, with walkability and rideability becoming increasingly key selling points.

“Everyday people” ride bikes, observed Kimberly Griffin, executive director of the Rutland Area Physical Activity Coalition. Her organization’s current campaign aims at reminding drivers that the people riding bikes on the road are their friends and neighbors.

On the job

TD Bank recently promoted Christopher J. Hackett to senior relationship manager in commercial banking. Although his base is Bellows Falls, he is tasked with developing new client relationships and managing existing commercial relationships, with businesses in Rutland and across southeastern Vermont. He graduated from Mount St. Joseph Academy in Rutland before going on to graduate from both  Champlain College (1982) and St. Michaels College (1984).

Year of the fire safety initiative

Rutland City Fire Chief Michael Jones recently announced the beginning of a year-long, community-wide fire safety initiative, involving all three shifts. City firefighters already visit public schools up to third grade, sharing what firefighters do and how to be safer from fire, but there is much more to learn.

Deputy Fire Chief Jim Mills heads the new fire safety program,as firefighters will go into the community to educate the public., using local media and speaking engagements. Among the planned programming is using the PEG-TV kitchen to demonstrate how to put out a kitchen grease fire and how to use a fire extinguisher.

Among the other nuggets of wisdom are knowing what the evacuation plan is for individual businesses, apartments, and homes, and how to find the right smoke detector.

RRMC tries new approach against smoking

Rutland Regional Medical Center asked the aldermen to sell a stretch of sidewalk to the hospital. If the city won’t ban smoking on the public sidewalk bordering the hospital building, the property’s owner can, hospital administration reasoned.

The aldermen voted to send the request to the Public Works Committee, but barely. Thomas Depoy, Gary Donahue, Scott Tommola and Sharon Davis dissented.

Noting that the aldermen did not want to set a precedent for making exceptions to citywide policies, RRMC CEO Thomas Huebner promised the hospital would clean and maintain the sidewalk, granting the city any needed easements for infrastructure, while suggesting a purchase price of about $2,600.

Alderman Tom Depoy opposes the idea as setting a precedent for anytime “any entity” wants to buy city property to restrict its use, although he himself vigorously opposes tobacco use.

Sean Sargeant Heading Police Commission

The aldermen voted 10-1  to reappoint Sean Sargeant to a three-year term on the Rutland City Police Commission on April 4; they also voted 9-2 to approve his appointment to succeed outgoing commission chair Lawrence Jensen.

Mayor Christopher Louras had announced his appointment March 21, giving aldermen an opportunity to meet with Sargeant on an individual basis. The commission also approved the appointment of Rutland attorney Tom Valente to a three-year set with a unanimous vote.

High score for Rutland Robotics Team

IBots 2370, the Rutland Area Robotics team, ranked second out of 40 teams at the District FIRST Robotics Competition Event hosted by the University of New Hampshire March 25 and 26. The IBots were one of four teams from Vermont in the 40-team competition.

Local youth had built their entry in the two-day competition, pitting their robot against others in the FIRST Stronghold challenge. Two more weeks of challenges remained in front of them.

Rutland Town notes

Rutland Town Clerk and Treasurer Donna Zeller told the town select board that Delinquent Tax Collector Christopher Howland has been delinquent himself on filing paper trails to keep track of the money he has collected.  She said he has collected $248,400 of the $330,896 but a lack of adequate records leaves her not knowing who has paid, and whether they paid the correct amount. If an audit were to take place, “I’m the one who has to stand there with the auditors,” she said.

The town uses the computer program New England Municipal Resource Center. If used appropriately, it provides essential information for property title transfer.

In his elected delinquent tax collector role since March 2015 and paid 8 percent of the delinquent tax accounts he collects, Howland has not yet mastered the computer element of his job. His predecessor Richard Lloyd  submitted weekly reports, Zeller says.

Figures Howland turned in to the town don’t add up, Zeller remarked, and therefore were reported that way in the 2015 town report. His submitted figures contained a figure of $241,904.09 paid against $348,518.25 of delinquent funds. That would leave a $106,614 balance, but Howland reported $88,343.25, she observed.

Howland said he is still in the process of correcting some errors but expects to become current now that he had access to the software.

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