News Briefs

Rutland Region News Briefs

VEDA approves Rutland Mental Health bonds
The Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA) recently approved up to $3 million in tax-exempt bonds to refinance Rutland Mental Health Services’ debt from the organization’s South Main Street construction project in 2008. In addition, VEDA approved up to $1 million in taxable bonds related to costs of constructing Mental Health’s Stratton Road facility in 2014. Municipal Capital Markets Group, Inc., is the bond underwriter, with Zions Bank, the trustee.
The non-profit Rutland Mental Health Services, Inc., was established in 1957 and is the primary provider of mental health services for Rutland County.
In this financing cycle, VEDA approved $15.2 million in economic development financing throughout the state. Other recipients are Autumn Harp, Inc., Essex; Global Values, Inc., Barre; Champlain Orchards, Inc., Shoreham; Catamount II Solar, St. Albans; and Green Mountain Distillers, LLC, Morrisville.

BROC picking up Corrections contract
Nonprofit BROC-Community Action in Southwestern Vermont will begin working with newly released convicts, taking on the Department of Corrections contract removed from Rutland United Neighborhoods in July. The field is not totally new to BROC, which already works with low-level pre-conviction offenders. The expansion extends services to those who have been convicted but being given an alternative to incarceration.
Some of the work will be shared with the Rutland County Court Diversion and Restoration Justice Center, the other bidder for the state contract. Under the 18-month contract, BROC will receive $240,000, with $30,000 of that subcontracted to Diversion. After the 18 months, the contract may be renewed in 12-month terms.
BROC Executive Director Tom Donahue plans to hire two new full-time employees while Diversion Executive Director Rick Bjorn will hire a part-time employee.
BROC already has services that help individuals reintegrate into the community, Donahue said. It has resources for housing, health care, and job skills development, as well as workshops on spending plans, time management, financial goal setting, and other topics.
Both BROC and Diversion will need volunteers to serve on restorative justice panels, helping offenders understand and make up for the effects of their crimes. Using these panels demonstrably reduces recidivism, commented Keith Tallon, Department of Corrections district manager of probation and parole.

Fire Department budget impasse continues
Three fire trucks came to the Board of Aldermen’s continued meeting Jan. 26 to underscore Rutland City firefighters’ Jan. 23 vote of no confidence in Fire Chief Michael Jones. Jones returned the sentiment as he told the aldermen that he was unable to “make them care,” referring to the firefighters.
Jones’ lack of firefighting experience has been a point of contention since his selection as department chief. He has a military background and was recommended by Mayor Chris Louras as a seasoned administrator who could smoothly guide the department while new leaders were being moved up in the ranks.
Jones lacks that ability, said Seth Bride, local union chapter president. That inability endangers the community’s safety, he contended.
Jones disagreed, saying that the struggle isn’t over what constitutes effective management, but whether the department members will “buy in.” Although Jones has taken firefighter training since his appointment, he has received no help with “some” departmental processes and his requests have “fallen on deaf ears,” he told the board. But he believes the problems in the department existed before he arrived and that officers do not take responsibility. The department lacks standards and regulations, Jones stated, although some firefighters are working to improve the department.
Many firefighters complain about the lack of continuity between shifts. The restructuring he proposed was intended to address that problem, Jones said. The plan would increase interaction with the community and move the department from being reactive toward being proactive, he stated.
“Management is solving problems. Leadership is getting folks who need to be led to buy into those solutions. I see management trying to happen. I don’t see the leadership piece,” observed Alderman Scott Tommola.
But Tommola agreed that increasing the number of firefighters would not solve the departmental issues and that the department appears to resist modernization. He expressed the hope that upcoming contract negotiations would yield modernization, “both culturally and financially.”
The board emerged without an approved Fire Department budget, adjourning until a Jan. 31 meeting.
The next day, board President William Notte evaluated the meeting, saying that the city had erred in hiring Jones. The error lay in believing that an outsider could successfully take on leadership of such a tight-knit group, Notte said. He described Jones’ situation as “almost impossible to overcome.”
Charged with violating open meeting rules by calling a 10-minute recess, Notte defended the brief recess by saying that although it might appear that way, the break was not to reach a consensus before the open session reconvened but to “drop the temperature of the room.”

Town Meeting preliminaries
Rutland Alderman George Gides has joined Alderman Thomas DePoy in announcing he will seek reelection to the Board of Aldermen. Incumbents Vanessa Robertson and Ed Larson have announced they will not seek re-election, while Alderman Melinda Humphrey has not announced whether she will or will not run. Petitions to run were due Jan. 30.

Newsy notes around town
The Rutland Area Food Co-op is featuring a quartet of winter root vegetables and tips on how to use them. Celery root/celeriac makes great celery soup as well as hash browns. Golden beets are terrific roasted. Black/winter radishes go well in many dishes. The crowning glory on the co-op’s list is the Gilfeather turnip, Vermont’s state vegetable, developed on John Gilfeather’s Wardsboro farm and celebrated with its own annual festival at the end of October.
Brian Notte and Sarah Rogers recently purchased Allen’s Automotive, LLC, 69 Crossman Ln., West Rutland. The business will remain in its present location with no staff changes other than the former owners’ retirement.
The John Russell family recently presented a $20,000 check to Habitat for Humanity of Rutland County President Chris Heintz. Habitat is raising funds to build a home at 42 Cleveland Avenue in Rutland; the goal is $110,000, with the project to start this spring and completion in 2018. Habitat is also looking for a partner family with a qualifying income, prepared to put in 200 hours of sweat equity working with Habitat volunteers.

Settlement to go to children
Willis Sheldon announced that he is splitting the $500,000 awarded him by the state; half will go into a trust fund for his deceased daughter Dezirae’s half-sister, and the other half into something else that will help children. Sheldon had sued the Vermont Department for Children and Families, claiming the department was negligent when it returned his daughter Dezirae Sheldon to her mother’s custody after previous episodes of egregious physical abuse of the toddler.
The child died while home alone with her stepfather, Dennis Duby, who is charged with second degree murder in the little girl’s death. The furor arising from Dezirae’s death precipitated a major reevaluation of the department’s assumption that a child should be returned to the care of his or her biological parents.
Sheldon’s attorney, Tom Costello, described the ruling as “a wakeup call for DCF to put the child’s interest first.” Sheldon has two more lawsuits not yet resolved: one against the hearing officer who reviewed the child’s case, the other against the attorneys who were charged with representing the child. The child’s mother, Sandra Eastman, had waived any claim in the case.

Effort to increase Rutland’s population underway
Lyle Jepson, head of Rutland Economic Development Corp., and Mary Cohen, CEO of Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce, hope towns will sign on to a regional marketing effort that would lead to population growth, improved tourism marketing, and enhanced youth retention.
Projections show that if the Rutland area continues along the same demographic pathway it seems headed down, by 2020 the countywide population will be down some 5 percent below its 2010 level, from 61,642 to 58,500. The 70-74 age bracket will rise 64.7 percent. Also expanding will be the 65-69 and 75-79 age brackets, up 41.9 and 35.7 percent respectively.
Correspondingly, the number of young people under 19 will drop. About one-fourth of the population aged 10-24 will age out of that bracket by 2020. So will a significant percentage of individuals in the 40-44 and 45-49 brackets – 26.0 and 32.7 percent respectively.
Jan. 17, Jepson told the Vermont House Committee on Education that education policy must prioritize economic and population growth. Castleton University’s position within the Rutland region makes it a strong force for economic recovery. He cited the purchase and repurposing of Spartan Arena, the upcoming installation of the Spartan dome, the relocation of the Castleton Polling Institute to downtown Rutland, the creation of the center for entrepreneurial programs, and connecting student interns to the community’s businesses as elements that will strengthen the community’s economic resurgence and stability.
A request for proposals on the regional marketing initiative, issued in December by the Rutland Economic Development Corporation (REDC), produced 18 submissions, Cohen said, a number subsequently whittled to four. Towns have “warmly received” invitations to participate in a larger marketing effort, she observed.
Given the diverse resources in the towns, developing a marketing plan may find settling on a marketing approach more difficult than if the appealing qualities of these communities were fewer.

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