On September 20, 2023

Let’s bury the hatchets and deal with the crisis

 

By Don Keelan

Editor’s note: Don Keelan of Arlington is a retired certified public accountant.

The time is long overdue for the Republicans/conservatives, Democrats/Progressives to put away their hatchets and stop attacking each other. Instead, let’s deal with the Vermont crisis of losing young people at a rate that will soon devastate the state. 

The devastation has already begun, and its impact is felt throughout the state. It is a decades-old issue: The state continues to lose its young people (ages 18-45). All politicians have given the case minimal attention. 

Some will say that the issue(s) of mental health, addiction, crime, education, homelessness, child care, family leave, climate change, and the environment are more important and take precedence. They are important issues; however, in the absence of young people, life as we once knew it will deteriorate slowly at first and then rapidly soon after that. The former is upon us. 

I venture to say that many among us have experienced the response, “Due to a lack of staff, we are not open today.” We can survive for another day if this is a restaurant or a shop, but not if it is the emergency department at the local hospital or a local doctor’s/dentist’s office. Nor is it acceptable if one needs a police or rescue-service presence. You can call, but will they come? 

A call to the police or rescue can be lifesaving. The need to call for a plumber, heating specialist, or electrician may not be (unless in the dead of winter when there is no heat), but the results are the same: “We will be there when we can.” 

When speaking to folks about this, the response is the same: It might be weeks or months before a tradesperson can address their problem. 

The weak canary in the coal mine is all around us. For example, take the Vermont Veterans’ Home in Bennington. This 100-plus-bed state institution, operating since the 1880s, has 59 vacant staff positions out of 196. The home is charged with taking care of our military veterans. 

The Vermont State Police, Agency of Transportation, mental health agencies, long-term care facilities and hospitals are all in the same crisis. They cannot fill positions. 

Some will say, and they are correct, that it is a housing problem. Sadly, we are beyond that now. We must find a way to resolve the housing problem directly or in the short term.

Housing development has four critical factors: available municipal infrastructure and zoning, building supplies, labor and low-cost financing. For many, the latter two have made it nearly impossible to acquire a new home. 

Acquiring a $300,000 house will take $70,000 for a down payment. An 80%, 30-year mortgage and an annual interest rate, now at 7.23%, will require about $114,000 in yearly income (before any college or car loan debt) to qualify. Of course, this assumes that a house can be acquired at that price.

It takes young people to build housing, and they are not here. It is not just building new housing; the weatherization and restoration of Vermont’s old housing stock also needs attention. To compound matters, the destruction from the July rainstorms resulted in scores of homes, businesses and government facilities requiring construction workers. But are they here? 

I generally stay optimistic, but considering what I have seen, the future for this state is not encouraging. It is one thing to have a problem that one must deal with. What is tragic is that the political forces in Montpelier, on all sides, are unwilling to come together and address this dire issue. 

I often wonder if the Vermont Legislature has become irrelevant and incapable of solving the state’s problems. 

How many institutions, businesses, colleges and nonprofits will have to close their doors before we realize how foolish, selfish, and in self-denial we were — and continue to be — before we act? 

Let’s put those hatchets away and get on with what we must do. Make it possible for young people to afford to live and work in Vermont.

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