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'Wish list' provokes pushback as council considers surplus

BARRE — Sporting a projected $568,000 surplus, city councilors went on a mini-spending spree Tuesday night, while offering mixed reviews with respect to administrative recommendations about what they might do with most of the one-time windfall.

Two councilors — Jake Hemmerick and Samn Stockwell — complained the conversation was premature, and a third — Emel Cambel — said she felt “blindsided” by the list of recommendations supplied by City Manager Steve Mackenzie.

The comments put Mackenzie, who was the bearer of uncharacteristically good financial news, on the defensive. He stressed his recommendations were simply suggestions, reminded councilors they have the final say over how to spend a sizable surplus that has been vetted during a soon-to-be-completed audit process.

“I don’t want the council to think what I’m putting in front of you is a ‘take it or leave it’ position,” Mackenzie said. “This is really the beginning of the discussion.”

It was, but it quickly went sideways prompting Mackenzie to wonder whether something was lost in the translation of a briefing memo he provided councilors in advance of the meeting.

Though Mackenzie indicated the council could make some decisions Tuesday night, he acknowledged none were necessary, and some — like a proposal to use $100,000 as a source of budget revenue next year — warranted additional discussion.

Hemmerick said that was true of the entire list given the absence of up-to-date financial information with respect to the fiscal year that started July 1, the city’s streets, sidewalks and capital plan and unexpended funds from a $1.7 million infrastructure bond.

Though Hemmerick said he supported some of the items — including the proposed creation of a “rainy-day fund” — on Mackenzie’s list, he questioned whether other items could be absorbed in the current operating budget, or with other voter-approved funding.

“I don’t feel like I have enough information about the status of some of our capital spending or infrastructure spending to say ‘yes’ to anything tonight,” he said.

With the exception of paying a $26,302 bill for emergency repairs to the roof of the BOR ice arena that the council knew was coming, Cambel agreed.

“I’m reluctant to see a ‘wish list’ eat up all the money,” she said.

Stockwell said she remained interested in using $200,000 of the fund balance to create a revolving loan fund that could serve as an important tool for a newly formed housing task force and troubled by what she considered cart-before-the-horse recommendations.

“I feel like this is a hard discussion to have without saying what our goals are,” she said, predicting one of them would likely be to grow a stagnant Grand List and the revolving loan fund could be one way to do that.

Mackenzie didn’t disagree, though he suggested a more sensible source for that seed money might be the more than $2.5 million in pandemic-related federal funding the city will receive under the American Rescue Plan Act. He also noted that he had recommended to bank — not spend — a significant chunk of the surplus, by using $200,000 to create a reserve fund to cover unexpected expenses like the recent repairs to the BOR roof.

Though no action was taken on that proposal it enjoyed more support than his recommendation the council consider applying $100,000 of the surplus to reduce the tax rate that would otherwise be needed to support a budget proposal that is still a work in progress.

Councilor Teddy Waszazak said he typically wouldn’t endorse “artificially buying down the cost of services” the city provides, but worried that might be necessary this year given economic uncertainties facing Granite City voters.

“I do think we have to seriously look at a subsidy for this coming budget,” he said, citing the projected 5% increase in the tax rate Mackenzie has indicated will be the give-or-take starting point for the council’s deliberations this year.

Hemmerick said he didn’t favor masking the tax increase and didn’t like the sound of 5% either.

“That makes me think I’m going to be a ‘no’ vote on this budget,” he said.

Hemmerick went on to complain about the city providing free emergency services to neighboring municipalities and to its investing in the planned upgrade of the intersection of South Main Street and Quarry Hill Road when its sidewalks and streets are crumbling.

The latter project required the acquisition and demolition of homes that were once tax-paying properties as part of a plan to significantly upgrade an intersection that serves Wilson Industrial Park in Barre Town.

“These are the thing we need to be thinking about as a city. We can’t be paying to induce sprawl and to subsidize other communities when we are nearing the highest tax rate in the state of Vermont,” he said.

Though Hemmerick voted against the motion, councilors did approve a few of Mackenzie’s recommendations while deferring discussion of the rest of them.

The BOR roof repair, which is already completed, was among the items approved and councilors signaled they are willing to include an information technology administrator in the budget for the coming year, by agreeing to fill that position now. The estimated cost for the pro-rated position is nearly $39,000.

Councilors also agreed to purchase four digital speed signs for a combined cost of $8,800 and to invest $2,100 in speed bumps.

Waszazak said both were nominal purchases that responded to concerns raised by constituents.

The combined cost of the approved items is just under $76,000, which leaves nearly $500,000 on the table.

Among the items that remain on Mackenzie’s list are three used vehicles — two unmarked detectives cars and one for the water department — at a combined cost of $60,000.

The list also includes $35,000 in funding for a council-approved strategic planning process — up to $20,000 for a facilitator and another $15,000 for software.

Mackenzie said those numbers are rough estimates. The same, he said, of the $35,000 he’s guessing it could take to replace the roof of the bath house at the municipal swimming pool, the $20,000 he’s hoping will cover the cost of “tree guards” for 75 downtown street trees and $10,000 to replace playground equipment flagged by the city’s insurer.

Based on Mackenzie’s estimates the combined cost of his recommendations would would be roughly $536,000, though $200,000 of that would be held in reserve. That would leave a little more than $32,000 unspoken for if councilors eventually approve the entire list of recommendations.

The size of the surplus is more than double the $225,000 that had been projected through three quarters in April and dwarfs any year-end fund balance the city has seen in decades.

david.delcore

@timesargus.com


Dennis Mead, of Waitsfield, volunteers his time Wednesday to paint trim around windows at the Street Andrew Roman Catholic Church in Waterbury.

Church services


Local
Survivors tell their stories of domestic abuse

BARRE — Survivors of domestic abuse shared their stories with lawmakers as part of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Circle, a nonprofit serving victims and survivors of domestic violence in Washington County, held its monthly coordinated community response meeting with stakeholders Wednesday over Zoom. Those in attendance included members of law enforcement, the State’s Attorney’s office, the Department of Corrections and the Department for Children and Families. Also in attendance were Rep. Maxine Grad, D-Moretown, and Rep. Mary Hooper, D-Montpelier.

The legislators were there to hear from survivors of domestic abuse and how the current system is impacting them. The Times Argus is publishing limited identifying information about the survivors due to concerns for their safety. Some of the survivors said they still have contact with their abusers because they have children together and share custody.

Diane Kinney, co-director at Circle, said her organization does a good job talking to people about the “red flags” associated with intimate partner violence and how unsafe it is to leave. Kinney said they do a good job helping people to heal and regain their lives. But she said they haven’t been great about communicating how the systems currently in place don’t work for them.

“In the last month, I’ve talked to so many survivors who are just flabbergasted that the system is not working for them, that that horrible, awful thing that happened to them is not illegal, that getting a relief from abuse order can be really difficult and that the issues that they face are really challenging after they’ve left. Trying to get housed. Trying to figure out custody of their children. Trying to get food stamps when they have no income. All of those community systems often do not work for survivors,” Kinney said.

She said her organization needs to do a better job helping people understand that and Wednesday’s meeting was part of that effort.

Eliza Cain, a court advocate at Circle, read a letter from a survivor. The woman said asking a survivor why they didn’t just leave their abusive relationship is like “asking a caterpillar, ‘Why don’t you just fly?’ Not ready, not the right time, not safe.”

The survivor said that doesn’t mean they haven’t wanted to or thought of leaving. She said asking a survivor “Why don’t you just ...” is insulting because it assumes the person is stupid and hasn’t thought of the obvious.

Even when they do leave, she said survivors aren’t safe for years afterwards. She brought up the murders of Courtney Gaboriault and Julie Fandino, two women who left abusive relationships only to be shot and killed by their former partners. The men involved in those cases then shot and killed themselves.

“They were out and living their lives, and then they were murdered,” the survivor said.

She said she didn’t “just leave” because she and her partner were in a lot of debt. She said the assets they had were all in his name so if she were to leave, she’d be saddled with half the debt and none of the assets.

“That would make you think twice,” she said.

She said the abuse she suffered was mostly mental so there were no criminal charges against him. She said they had a child together, and she was told her child would almost certainly have visitation with his father. She said she was scared to be with her abuser even when he was being nice because she never knew when he would “blow up.”

She asked, “Why would I think it OK to send my 12-year-old there to visit him without me?”

Another survivor said she didn’t realize she was trauma-bonded to her father and how that was impacting her until after she got out of an abusive relationship. She said her mother was also abusive and this trauma made her an easy target for abusers.

The survivor said she found herself on a dating site and talking with a man from Vermont. She is from the United Kingdom. She said he started “love bombing” her, giving her attention and mirroring things she was saying so she felt like they were soulmates.

“For somebody who hasn’t really experienced that sort of intimacy and love, it’s really intoxicating,” she said.

The survivor said her abuser convinced her to move to the United States with the promise that they would be married so she didn’t have to worry about her immigration status. She said her abuser owned a farm and despite having a doctorate degree and being an English speaker, she found herself essentially trafficked and placed into indentured servitude on her abuser’s farm. She said her abuser would hold her immigration status over her head to keep her from leaving.

The survivor said the farm had a butcher shop, a lot of land and pigs. She said her abuser, who had two guns, would tell her he had the ability to dispose of bodies.

She said she was eventually able to get out, with the help of Circle, but she’s learned her abuser has a new partner living on the farm with him.

A survivor identified as “J” said she and her abuser married young and divorced, but they stayed together after. She said her abuser had a disability and that contributed to her not wanting to leave him because she would feel guilty if she did.

J said it took 10 years of planning before she actually left her abuser. She said her and her abuser have children together.

She said when she went to police they made her feel crazy. She said she would be crying in those instances and she wouldn’t know what police would do with her abuser. J said she didn’t know what she would tell those around her.

“It’s not like you can just go to your neighbor and tell them, ‘Yeah, I put a restraining order on my children’s father,’” she said.

J said every time she tried to leave her abuser, the system would tell her she was doing something wrong. She said she didn’t have any financial security so she had to apply for food stamps. She fought back tears while describing the shame she felt when applying and how she felt as if she was saying she’s not worth anything. She said filling out court paperwork made her feel that way as well.

“You feel every time you fill out those forms how everything is against you,” she said.

She said she got a relief from abuse order against her abuser and whenever he would violate that order she would call police, but it would take a lot out of her to do so.

Erica said her abuser was a police officer. She said the abuse she endured was emotional and psychological, and while she knew it was wrong, she didn’t feel safe reporting it and tried to fix her abuser instead. She said she didn’t reach out to police for help until the abuse became physical.

Erica said because of her abuser’s background, he was well-versed in domestic violence cases and was careful not to leave any bruises or marks on her. She said that made the assault difficult to prove.

She said she couldn’t get a relief from abuse order against him because that would limit his ability to do his job. She said the state’s attorney’s office and the law enforcement agency he worked for worked to protect him, not her.

“So the abuse continued. The stalking, the abuse would continue,” she said.

Lisa said she developed an addiction to opiates after breaking a bone. She said her abusive partner helped feed her addiction because he was also a drug user.

She said at one point, she had a bad reaction to mixing an opiate with alcohol, fell and hit her head.

Lisa choked up talking about waking up and not being able to feel her body, though she could see and speak.

“I begged him to call 911. I begged him to get me help because I couldn’t move, and I was afraid I was dying. He didn’t help me because he was afraid that he would go to jail for giving me the drugs,” she said.

She said she eventually passed out, and when she woke up she was able to move again. She said that was just one of the times where the relationship could have cost her her life. Lisa said she then decided to leave her abuser because she didn’t want her children to know she left the world as a drug addict in an abusive relationship.

The legislators thanked the women for their stories.

Grad said she wants to know what’s working and what isn’t. She said they may need to revisit laws that have been passed or new laws might be needed.

“Your work is very much a priority of mine,” she said.

Hooper said the women’s stories were powerful, but sadly not unfamiliar. She said she’s been hearing about barriers to access for survivors, and she’s paying close attention.

Kinney said she wanted to have outreach events like Wednesday’s quarterly, instead of only in October, so people are aware of what the needs are on a regular basis.

eric.blaisdell

@timesargus.com


A pair of skeletons play ultimate frisbee Wednesday in a Halloween tableau outside a home on College St., in Montpelier. The scene was created by Parker and Jamie Rea and their sons Campbell and Gardner.

A long game


Local
Town recognizes Brown for 31 years of service

BARRE TOWN — In what’s becoming a trend for the town, officials have recognized another town employee, this time Raymond Brown, for his three decades-plus of service.

At the Select Board’s regular meeting Tuesday, Board member Jack Mitchell read aloud a resolution which was approved by the board in appreciation of Brown’s 31 years of service. Mitchell said Brown has worked seasonally on the town’s three cemeteries since Sept. 11, 1990.

He said Brown has also maintained the recreation and municipal building grounds.

Mitchell said Brown “is valued for his reliability, dedication to the job and punctuality.”

He noted Brown has “meticulously prepared the final resting place for many, many community members using his exceptional skills with a skid-steer. A background, but important role that helps the bereaved.”

Mitchell said Brown has worked alongside 15 co-workers during his time with the town. He said Brown has also had four different supervisors.

“Dealing with four supervisors, that’s an amazing thing,” Mitchell remarked.

He said Brown’s work has led the town’s cemeteries to be admired by others through the years.

Brown then received a standing ovation.

Board Chair Paul White said he didn’t know how the town missed Brown’s 30-year anniversary last year, but “better late than never.”

Dwight “Harry” Harrington, a member of the town’s cemetery commission, read a statement from the commission. Harrington said based on yearly averages, Brown has been involved in over 600 funeral internments. He said Brown has also installed concrete foundations for hundreds of headstones in the cemeteries.

“Cemeteries need to be kept up,” he said. “A neat and attractive cemetery is an important aspect to those that come onto the grounds to visit family members interred there. Mr. Brown works diligently to keep the lawns mowed, the grass trimmed from around the headstones, and the trees and shrubs in a healthy and attractive state.”

Harrington said Brown is reliable and dedicated. He said Brown puts much pride and dedication into the tasks he performs.

Harrington noted Sexton Dwight Coffrin was recently dealing with some physical issues. He said with a labor shortage and an ongoing pandemic, Brown stepped up to fill in for Coffrin. Harrington said this allowed Coffrin to focus on other issues.

Coffrin said when he shifted from working on Barre City’s cemeteries to the town’s, he thought it was going to be an easy transition. He said he prepared the first grave, had everything laid out and then he got a phone call from Brown telling him it wasn’t done right.

He said it took some time to adjust, but whenever he made a mistake, Brown would let him know, they would fix it, and they’ve been working well together ever since.

“I appreciate Raymond. I’m so glad he stayed here for his 31 years. I hope he stays here for longer, at least as long as I’m here. He’s a very, very good friend and a trusted employee,” Coffrin said.

Members of Brown’s family expressed how proud they were of Brown and how he has been a positive influence in their lives.

Brown thanked everyone for the kind words and said working for the town is like a second home for him.

The town has honored multiple other long-serving employees this year. Earlier this month, Town Manager Carl Rogers was recognized for 30 years of service. Veteran Clerk-Treasurer Donna Kelty retired earlier this year after 32 years of service. So did Assistant Town Clerk Alice Bartlett after her 32 years of working for the town. Joyce Beaudin was recognized in August for her 37 years of service, which includes seven years in the Town Clerk’s office and 30 years in the Assessor’s office.

eric.blaisdell

@timesargus.com


Rail

The world’s governments still plan to produce more than double the amount of fossil fuels in 2030 than would be consistent with the Paris Agreement.

Editorial, A4

Survive and advance

U-32 eliminates Hartford during Division II boys soccer playoff action. B1


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