Two steps forward, one step back
Although the city seemingly gains fiscal ground with every audit, two gargantuan obstacles continue to lie in the path of solvency. Both the city pension fund and the downtown parking garage-transit center are problems that present no foreseeable remedy.
The pension fund is really two funds, City Treasurer Wendy Wilton said. The pension fund includes $19 million for city employees and $17 million for public school employees. It provides retirement moneys for about 600 “active” individuals, another 400 who are already retired, and some 100 who fit neither category but have a vested interest after having worked for the city five years or more.
The transit center continues to amass more than $185,000 in expenses more than predicted revenues. Much of that ongoing expense is for electricity; electrical bills add up to more than $10,000 a month, Wilton observed. Since the city continues to lease the transit center but the state owns the structure, the city is highly unlikely to make improvements that would reduce operating expenses.
Project VISION annual report is encouraging
Aggravated assaults have risen 38 percent, Rutland City Police Capt. Scott Tucker told 100-plus individuals gathered for Project VISION’s second annual report meeting at Rutland Intermediate School March 10.
Nevertheless, much of the report was promising. Although robberies are rising across the state, robberies in Rutland dropped 50 percent in 2015, from 16 to 8. Since 2013, burglaries have dropped from 199 to 79, Tucker observed. Recidivism is also improving: of 25 enrollees in a probation and parole re-entry program, only one has committed a crime since.
Tucker hopes that a department analysis now taking place will provide effective answers to reducing aggravated domestic assaults too.
Rutland Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Brennan Duffy extolled Northwest neighborhood beautification in demolishing abandoned properties, Rutland Blooms plantings, and the Front Porch cleanup effort. The attendees learned that Rutland’s commitment to community improvement is what convinced Brian Kilcullen to accept the police chief position in the city. It seems too many other communities expect the police department to solve all problems.
Mending trauma in young children
More than half the children entering Rutland City Schools kindergarten have already experienced trauma, according to their parents, the district’s assistant superintendent Rob Bliss said March 14. He hopes to be able to place information on working with traumatized children in the hands of pre-K providers before the upcoming school year, when pre-K becomes mandatory statewide.
Two years of tracking how many parents report their children have already experienced at least one serious traumatic event has set what Bliss terms “an alarming baseline.” Districtwide, 38 percent reported in 2014 their child had experienced trauma; 2015 numbers were up to 57 percent. The numbers were even higher at Northwest Elementary: 56 percent in 2014, 72 percent in 2015.
Identifying children who have already been influenced by trauma allows educators to help move children beyond survival mode, Bliss indicated. He wants all students in the city to “have a trauma-informed, resiliency-based pre-K experience.”
Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Tom Donahue plans to leave the Chamber to become the new CEO at BROC-Community Action in Southwestern Vermont. He announced the move, effective at the beginning of April, on March 17.
The city’s Recreation & Parks Department’s program director, Jay Northrup, is vacating his position to start an “eco-friendly” landscaping company. Department head Cindi Wight is looking for a replacement who “understands and appreciates” running a skating rink and a pool, and preferably wants to live in Rutland. Preference will be given to a certified park and recreation professional (CPRP); the deadline for cover letters and resumes is April 13.
Vermont Butcher Shop chain to open
Green Mountain Power is helping to bring a butcher shop to Rutland. General Manager Nick DeLauri hopes to open a Vermont Butcher Shop location inside the former Texaco station at the corner of Allen Street and Route 7 in June. It is the third outlet for the parent company, which also owns stores in Manchester and Londonderry. It intends to carry specialty meats such as venison, quail and pheasant, soup bones and odd cuts in addition to more typical meat selections; it makes its own ham and sausage.
The company had asked GMP for aid after noticing the way the utility company had worked to encourage Phoenix Books to set up shop in Rutland. Supplying an air-source heat pump, LED lighting, and advice on improving the building’s energy efficiency are among the ways the utility company is helping the new retail outlet.
New kid on the block
Michael Fiacco has opened an Ashley Furniture HomeStore between Home Depot and Big Lots in Rutland Town. The Ashley chain contains 611 stores across the country. Fiacco also owns Bennington Furniture. Jaci Terrill is general manager for both Bennington Furniture and the new store. It is open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Sunday 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Among the brands of furniture offered at the store are New Traditions, Urbanology, and Vintage Casual; and contains a mattress store within its entrance.
Attorney appeals conviction
Former Rutland attorney Christopher Sullivan has asked that the Vermont Supreme court reverse his 2015 Rutland criminal court conviction. Prosecutors said Sullivan was driving under the influence when his vehicle struck 71-year-old Mary Jane Outslay in a hit-and-run as she crossed Strongs Avenue in 2013. She died as a result of injuries; the court sentenced the 56-year-old to serve 4 to 10 years in jail. Filing on March 15, Appellate Defender Josh S. O’Hara wrote that Sullivan had been deprived of his right to a fair sentencing hearing, that the court has yet to prove that Sullivan’s intoxication caused Outslay’s death, and that his sentences should be vacated and there should be a new hearing. Sullivan also claimed the court denied him a psychological evaluation regarding his panicking and leaving the accident scene. Sullivan’s car was found hidden on his property and he had not contacted an attorney for several days after the incident. No new hearing date has been set.
Wennberg: ANR proposals would harm economy, water quality
As the state Agency of Natural Resources updates its rules to align with the federal Clean Water Act, some of its strictures could bar new hookups to combined sewer and storm water treatment systems. Combined systems may be even more stressed with heavy rainfall as the state attempts to prevent raw sewage from entering waterways.
The cure may be worse than the problem, creating an “expectation for compliance that can’t be complied with,” according to Rutland City Public Works Commissioner Jeff Wennberg. He and representatives of communities that pipe into the city system worry that the financial penalties for violation may shut down the regional economy.
Among the troublesome language is the threat that the Agency may “prohibit further connections with the service area of the backup” if sewage backups or discharges recur. The language implies—but doesn’t say—that successful compliance is possible only if all combined sewers are separated. To do so for Rutland would require $125 to $150 million, Wennberg estimated.
Nor will separation improve water quality overall, he said. Combined systems give storm water more thorough treatment than do systems that treat sewage and storm water separately. Occasional, brief overflows present much less environmental damage, as the storm water passes through a large treatment plant nearly all the time.
At the same time the state creates new mandates, it also is cutting funding to mitigate overflow, Wennberg noted. H.610, currently under consideration, would eliminate the state contribution completely. Public comment on the new rule closes March 31.
New map too restrictive?
Though only recently elected to Rutland Town’s Select Board, Selectman Joe Denardo is already poised to make changes. His first voiced concern is an objection to a new land-use map. Proposed changes in the map aim to conserve the landscape.
Denardo believes that reclassifying some agriculture-designated land as “working lands” may be overly restrictive. The as-yet-undefined category is intended to encourage low-impact commercial activity including farm stands and bed-and-breakfasts, officials say.
When Denardo attended the Planning Commission’s first public hearing on March 3, he observed that farmers like him should be relatively unrestricted in their land use because flexibility is a necessity in agriculture profitability. His family has given up milk production because it was too expensive and has been looking for ways to bring in more income from their land, Denardo commented. Leasing some for solar development might be acceptable.
Rutland Town has only two dairy herds. Some farmers have sold land for housing developments, which may be just as much “detriment on the landscape” as solar panels, Denardo commented. He noted that those observations were ones he made as a private citizen, not a Selectman.
At Denardo’s first Select Board meeting March 8, Rutland town resident David Fucci said Denardo should be eliminated from voting on solar issues due to conflict of interest. Fucci himself opposes two proposed solar installations near his Cold River Road home.
Rutland Town made headlines throughout and beyond New England for promoting increased local control over solar field siting and development. Outreach has garnered support from about 100 other Vermont towns, and the issue lies before the Vermont Supreme Court. Several more public hearings must take place before the updated map can become operational. Resident input will be used to complete the final draft.