Tinmouth community weighs in on impaired driving; approx. 200 people attended meeting
About 200 people voiced their frustration with Vermont’s failure to remove impaired drivers from the road in a meeting held April 9 at the Tinmouth Community Center. They met with Rutland County State’s Attorney Rose Kennedy and Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan in a forum triggered by the 2016 death of local dairy farmer Leo Branchaud, killed by a pickup truck allegedly driven by a habitually offending man who fled the scene and already had his license suspended.
Tami Carboni-Branchaud, widowed by the actions of Thomas H. Velde Jr., asked Donovan to promise to support harsher punishment for repeat offenders. Donovan said he wouldn’t without additional facts, but that he does understand her anger and frustration. The criminal justice system suffers from too limited resources, Donovan commented; prosecutors suffer from too high caseloads and long waiting lists of people who need drug abuse treatment. Law enforcement and prosecutors lack evidence-based screening tools to assess individuals’ risk of reoffending. A defendant’s current charge may be misleading.
Donovan encouraged concerned people to involve themselves in the judicial process and use their ballot boxes to hold elected prosecutors accountable. Many Tinmouth residents have been attending as many of Velde’s court appearances as possible. He has a criminal record that includes convictions for eight felonies and more than 30 misdemeanors. Although Velde was receiving treatment at a methadone clinic, he had drugs in his system at the time of the accident, a toxicology report revealed.
There is value in giving someone a second chance, but repeatedly doing so risks the safety of the public, Tinmouth farmer Marshall Squier commented. Squier and other neighbors volunteered to keep Branchaud’s cows milked and his farm running.
Crimes that are fueled by substance abuse fill the prosecution’s docket, Kennedy said. Referring to the request for harsher penalties, she cited drunken driving, with a possible maximum penalty of two years in jail for a first offense. But courts rarely give the maximum sentence; offenders seldom see jail for a DUI, nor on DUI-2.
In Vermont, a person charged with a DUI is charged with misdemeanors. The average drunken driver has driven 80 times before a first arrest. “They don’t go to jail because we’ve decided that’s not how we’re going to spend our money,” Kennedy commented.
Keeping an inmate in jail for a year costs an average $49,502, the fourth highest outlay in the country. Rita Branchaud, the victim’s mother, commented that figuring in the expense of jailing a drunken driver “placed a value on my son’s life.”
ARSU school budgets up for revote
Voters rejected three school district budgets in the Addison-Rutland Supervisory Union in March. In preparation for a May 9 revote, Castleton-Hubbardton (covering both Castleton Elementary and Castleton Village schools) and Fair Haven Grade School have cut their budgets substantially. Castleton-Hubbardton removed about $150,000 from its budget, reducing the sum to $6.06 million, by putting maintenance projects on hold and funding a humanities teaching position through grants. The Fair Haven Grade School budget stripped away $500,000 to total $5.22 million, by removing various line items, ARSU Superintendent Ron Ryan said.
Fair Haven Union High is sending the same budget to the voters that it submitted in March, a budget that is $279,130 below the previous one, and one of the lowest union high school per-pupil costs in the state, Principal Brett Blanchard said, commenting on the $7.83 million figure. He also promoted the school as uniformly reaping standardized test scores above the state average, at a per pupil cost of $14,769, below the state average of $15,489.
Fair Haven and Castleton voters will also revote their Act 46 balloting. Fair Haven had rejected the measure; Castleton, approved. A rejection by a minimum of 240 Castleton voters would stop the merger. Approval by at least 147 Fair Haven voters could “maintain or expand” the district.
Taxpayers in the member towns of Benson, Castleton, Fair Haven, Hubbardton, Orwell, and West Haven will all receive an informational mailer about the high school budget. The high school hosts an informational budget meeting May 2.
Dollar General meets resistance in Poultney
A citizens’ group opposes plans to install a Dollar General store in the former Vemas manufacturing building at 61 Beaman St. in Poultney. The building, owned by Poultney Properties LLC, has been vacant since the electronic parts supplier closed two years ago.
The property received its last Vermont permit for a manufacturing facility with 80 employees. Changes in use filed with the state are for a Dollar General retail store in the largest building on the site, and a woodworking shop for the Green Mountain College Renewable Energy & Ecological Design (REED) program in a separate structure, both permitted uses. The permit also calls for new signage, a new front door entry, two new bathrooms, and a new office, and removal of one of the four buildings on the property.
The proposed discount retail Dollar General store would go into the main 22,000-square-foot building, occupying about 10,000 square feet of it. Dollar General has two stores in Rutland, and another planned to open in Pittsford.
The group Concerned Citizens of Poultney opposes Dollar General’s opening an outlet at the site. Group spokesperson C.B. Hall said said one of the reasons is the sheer size of the Dollar General organization. Hall said it also violates the town plan, which discourages strip-mall development on Beaman Street. The rest of the proposed uses — the Green Mountain College REED workshop and a second building currently used by a local woodworker — are appropriate.
Another objection the group has to the Dollar General store is that real estate consultant Marc Thibault told the March 22 Poultney Development Review Board he could not say what time of day or night the weekly tractor trailer delivery would arrive. A barn on the site would be torn down to make it possible for the truck to access the alley to the store. Smaller trucks would make deliveries several times a week as well.
Hall’s group objects to the plan to remove the barn, which he describes as a “handsome 19th century barn that welcomes visitors entering the town from the north along Beaman Street, which is Route 30.”
Members of the Concerned Citizens group are trying to find an industrial tenant but realize it is a “long-haul” project.
Benson history interpreting
Jan Ladd and Karen Barber are looking for people interested in Benson’s history with an eye to collecting that information and making it accessible to others. Possible projects include mapping the town cemeteries, creating a brochure of historic buildings, restoring the town’s charter, or developing another project toward that goal. To get involved with this campaign, call Ladd, 802-537-3434, or Barber, 802-537-3155.
Benson roads seek grants
Benson is applying for three Agency of Transportation grants: a $200,097 paving grant to repave on Stage and Lake roads; a $25,820 Better Roads Grant to work on North Lake Road erosion near the intersection with Stony Point; and a $10,000 Better Roads Grant to complete the road erosion, culvert, and highway network inventories now required by the state under the 2015 Clean Water Act.
Hubbardton planning its future
Nearly a year ago, 96 Hubbardton residents participated in a June 9 forum to discuss what they value in Hubbardton, both as individuals and as a community. After Nancy Bell and the Conservation Fund gathered that information and published a report on “Life in Hubbardton,” in December, a group has been meeting to discuss the issues it revealed.
Another group has been gathering information for a community business directory. Another group has been looking for and creating recreation opportunities in the town. Even more are planning the first annual Hubbardton Community Spring Fling pot luck supper. Be watching for a Facebook page, as yet unnamed, to promote all these efforts and their dates.