By Lani Duke
School merger decisions looming ahead at Town Meeting
Town Meeting Day across Vermont gives local communities across the state an opportunity to choose who implements the day-to-day running of towns and school districts. In addition to choosing to fill many key town positions, citizens of Wallingford will have the opportunity to choose directors for the planned White Rocks Unified School District. Those elected will take office if voters approve the proposed merger of existing Rutland South Supervisory Union schools on the same day.
Whether school districts can meet the austerity requirement imposed by Act 46 will impact the property tax rates in those towns. West Rutland School officials are still working to trim their budget draft. Already snipped away are three jobs and $141,000, with $54,852 remaining to eliminate in order to meet the Act 46 spending caps. If West Rutland decides instead to exceed its cap, perhaps with hopes of Act 46’s repeal, the Legislature has assured that they will pay for their defiance. Every dollar spent over the cap weighs double in calculating the town’s property tax rate. If the budget remains at its current proposed level, just short of $55,000 above the cap, it would add about $0.0167 on the tax rate, or $33.40 added to a property owner’s education tax bill for a $200,000 home.
Fellow Rutland Central Supervisory Union schools find themselves in much the same pickle. Although the Rutland Town School Board has already shed three full-time and part-time jobs, saving $129,630, it still must drop $52,584. Proctor has eliminated $35,460, with $146,000 to go. Rutland Central Supervisory Union business manager Cheryl Scarzello has pleaded for the cap’s repeal, saying, “Often the reductions made in schools of my size are in areas of support for students who are struggling in math and reading in order to avoid reductions in classroom teaching positions. Many school boards have had to make tough choices about reductions in core curricular areas in order to meet AGP.” (Scarzello is also president of the Vermont Association for School Business Officials.)
More water works, coming and going
With the completion of the Killington Avenue-area sewer line, Rutland City has completed a major sewer project and is ready for the next one or two water developments. On Jan. 5, Public Works Commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg asked the Board of Aldermen to put bond articles on the March ballot that would fund replacement water mains for those that are over a century old, and add a pressure equalization tank near Campbell Road. Together they bear a $2.8 million price tag, but state aid would bring the city’s cost down to $1.7 million, Wennberg said.
The oldest main on Wennberg’s replacement list is on Jackson Avenue, laid in 1880. Others cover East Street, laid in 1885; Engrem Avenue, 1887; Park and Crescent streets, 1893; and Spellman Terrace, 1895. The city needs to plan spending a million dollars a year replacing those century-plus-old lines, using its existing revenue, Wennberg said.
The other project would increase fire protection west of Otter Creek. The need for pressure equalization became widely recognized when water pressure proved insufficient to fight the blaze at Rutland Plywood.
Wennberg praised the contractor who performed the work on Killington Avenue, Kenyon Pipeline Inspection. Keeping Moon Brook’s water from entering the pipeline joints running underneath that watercourse required innovation and three tries. A high-tech fiber was run up the pipe, and the interior was lined with a resin that would harden when heated. Now nearly complete, the project still needs a bit more work in the spring.
Aldermen down by one
Jon Skates vacated his seat on Rutland City’s Board of Aldermen on January 4. With only eight weeks before Town Meeting Day, Mayor Chris Louras said he will not seek a temporary replacement.
Skates said his employer, Casella Waste Management, had given him a promotion that causes him to move to the Montpelier area. Resigning now gives voters a better opportunity to choose who will fill out his two-year term. He describes his experience on the Board Of Aldermen as rewarding and encourages anyone interested in serving the city to consider running for the office. In addition to electing a substitute to fill Skates’ second year of a two-year term, voters will also choose five two-year terms.
Door-to-door vacuum cleaner sales agents must now file with the City
In a ruling on the last day of 2015, Rutland City’s professional licensing board decided to require that a Kirby distributor must provide the city with salespersons’ identities and background checks. The city may also require deeper background checks. Kirby mandates background checks on all salespeople, Ryan Hampton and Corey Sterling had told the Board Dec. 1. (Hampton runs the local distribution organization, with Sterling, head of a Plattsburgh, N.Y.-based distributorship, as his mentor.) Nor does Kirby hire anyone with a felony record. The Board’s decision insists that Hampton provide names, local and permanent addresses, and physical descriptions of his sales crew, as a condition of his license. He also must provide descriptions and registration numbers of all vehicles used, as well as copies of the background checks. Subcontractors must be prepared to also submit to a city background check. The city already requires that door-to-door peddlers be licensed and can revoke an individual license if a salesperson disturbs the peace.
New winter lunch site opening
The Dream Center, 197 West St., has set up a lunch center, open seven days a week, 1 to 3 p.m., through March 28, founders Linda Justin and Bill Beckim recently announced. It offers people with no place to go an opportunity to escape the cold, along with free lunch and hot coffee. Much of the food being offered stems surpluses at Dismas House and Gill’s Delicatessen. working together to meet needs in the Northwest neighborhood. In an ideal world, the Dream Center would convert space into an emergency shelter, but conforming to safety standards requiring sprinklers, fire alarms, and trained overnight staff is cost-prohibitive, Justin said. Providing afternoon respite, easily accessible from downtown, in the coldest part of the winter is feasible. Volunteers and donations are welcome. To participate, call 236-0407.
Forming a birth community
Rutland Regional Medical Center hosted an open house Jan. 5 to showcase its new Centering Pregnancy program. A healthcare professional and a group of women with similar due dates meet both individually with their doctors and with other cohort members; in their group meetings they share their experiences with pregnancy and form supportive friendships. Initiator Dr. Mary Beerworth, an obstetrician-gynecologist, said she learned about the Centering Pregnancy model from University of Connecticut representatives at a meeting of the New England Obstetrical and Gynecological Society . Working with her in bringing the program to Rutland is nurse Kathleen Craig, director of Rutland Women’s Healthcare at RRMC. The program is a better way to deliver care and improve outcomes, the two professionals say.
Northwood Park path proposed
Rutland Town’s Highway Commission recommended the full town board approve a new shared-use path into Northwood Park. The shared-use path has been under study for two years, according to Selectwoman Mary Ashcroft. Also encouraged are road striping and a new sidewalk, extending from one between Post Road and Rutland Town School, up Chasanna Drive to Sanborn Place, crossing private land into Northwood Park, Ashcroft said Jan. 3.
The Highway Commission is asking the Select Board to approve $30,000 to lay 1,800 feet of sidewalk and 1,500 feet of shared-use path., with half deriving from the Recreation Department budget and the remainder from the Highway Department budget. The use of municipal funds increases the likelihood of federal funding, Ashcroft stated. Funding could, alternatively, be approved via voter approval on the Town Meeting ballot.
Striping would pick up the slack, following State announcements that it is no longer striping town roads intersecting with Route 4 and Route 7. The Commission proposed that the town budget $10,000 to pave town roads and $5,000 on roadwork that state crews had previously covered. Half the town roads could be worked on in the upcoming fiscal year, with the other half in the following one, given voter approval.
Residents in the Adele Stanley Apartments, 5 Cold River Rd., would have better access to businesses on Route 7 South with a proposed sidewalk, at a cost of $80,000 to $90,000. Connecting the 43 one-bedroom and 22 two-bedroom apartments with Route 7 makes the area less susceptible to commercial “urban sprawl” by attaching residential areas, Ashcroft postulated.