A1 A1
39 towns to host vaccine sites

MONTPELIER — State officials say 39 towns will have a vaccine site for those 75 years old and older starting next week.

At his regular Friday news conference, Gov. Phil Scott said the state will start phase two of the rollout for the novel coronavirus vaccine on Monday. The state so far has vaccinated health care workers, emergency responders, and residents and staff at long-term care facilities. In an effort to keep people from dying, state officials said the next priority would be older Vermonters who don’t live in long-term care facilities. The vast majority of the deaths from the virus in the state have reportedly been residents 65 years old or older.

“The science is very clear. The older you are, the more likely you are to die if you get COVID. With our limited supply of vaccines, in my world, we have a moral obligation to prioritize saving lives,” Scott said.

The governor cited the limited supply of vaccine the state is receiving, about 8,800 doses per week, as the reason why the state is focusing solely on older residents. He said if the state starts getting more doses, it can quickly ramp up and start broadening who gets a shot.

Mike Smith, secretary of the state Agency of Human Services, said next week only those 75 years old or older are eligible for the vaccine. Smith said it’ll take about 5 weeks to vaccinate all those residents, of which there are around 49,000. The state will then vaccinate around 33,000 Vermonters aged 70 to 74, and then around 42,000 residents who are aged 64 to 69. The state is hoping to get through the older residents by the beginning of spring. After that, the state will vaccinate anyone 18 years old or older who has a high-risk health condition such as emphysema or heart disease.

Smith said residents can sign up online or via phone. He said the website and the number will be announced Monday.

According to the Department of Health’s website, 39 towns — including Barre, Montpelier, Waterbury, Rutland and Castleton — will host 54 vaccine sites.

Smith stressed those that sign up for a vaccine appointment need to keep that appointment. He said cancellations and disruptions to schedules could cause delays for others to get the vaccine and cause vaccine doses to spoil.

“We’re working on plans now to reduce the chances of spoilage, but we need your help to be successful,” he said.

The twice-weekly news conferences have typically been held in-person in Montpelier, though media organizations have been strongly urged to call in and only a small number of people attend. But Friday’s conference was completely remote because a contractor at Tuesday’s conference and last Friday’s conference ended up testing positive for the virus Tuesday. So the governor, Smith, Health Commissioner Dr. Mark Levine and others in attendance have been isolating. Scott said he and the other members of his cabinet have tested negative and he’s scheduled to be tested again Tuesday, seven days after the exposure. If that test also comes back negative, the governor can stop isolating.

Despite this incident, Scott, who is 62 years old, said his thoughts haven’t changed about when he gets the vaccine. He said he is anxious to get the shot, but he didn’t want to potentially take it away from someone in need.

“From my standpoint, I’m going to wait until it’s my turn. If I had my druthers, I would have everyone vaccinated before I had. I’d be the final vaccine shot into a Vermonter’s arm if I could,” he said.

eric.blaisdell @timesargus.com

Leon Eggleston, of Montpelier, lights a trailside lantern Friday in preparation for Onion River Outdoors’ annual Snowshoe Romp in Hubbard Park. The event featured snowshoe demos and a candle-lighted trail through the woods near the Old Shelter.

Snowshoe Romp

Council approves budget amid calls to cut police

MONTPELIER — The City Council has a $14.7 million spending plan and at least a few people who say they can’t support that budget because it invests too heavily in local law enforcement.

Amid renewed calls they cut funding for police, councilors approved the budget recommended by City Manager Bill Fraser and finalized the warning for the city’s Town Meeting Day elections during their virtual Thursday night meeting.

The second public hearing on Fraser’s budget proposal went a lot like the first, with residents urging councilors to address what they perceive as an unwarranted — and unwanted — investment in police while complaining about a budget process that lacked transparency and a council that lacked backbone.

Those subjective critiques followed Fraser’s explanation of the budget that calls for spending roughly $375,000 less than voters approved a year ago — a 2.5% reduction — but would require raising just more than $10 million in property taxes, an increase of roughly $66,000, or 0.6%.

If voters approve the budget, it would add less than a penny to the municipal portion of the tax rate and would push the projected tax rate increase facing Montpelier homeowners to 15.1 cents. Almost all of that increase — 14.4 cents — is tied to the $25.8 million school budget that will also be on the ballot in March.

Responding to what have been persistent calls from some residents to reduce spending on law enforcement, Fraser described the assertion police spending is increasing by 10.4% while other areas are being cut as “simplistic.”

For one thing, Fraser said the increase cited by police critics included emergency dispatch operations. That $931,000 expense reflects an increase of nearly $159,000, or 20.6%. While dispatchers operate out of the police department, they provide emergency communications for the city’s fire and ambulance department, as well as a network of other area fire departments that contract with the city for the service.

Fraser said the cost of police operations is up roughly $154,000, or 6.9%, but even that number is misleading. As result of a once-every-12-year quirk, there will be an extra period during the coming fiscal year creating an additional city-wide expense of about $330,000 with roughly $100,000 of that attributable to the police department.

According to Fraser, the police budget reflects a reduction one full-time officer, no new police cruiser and no plans to purchase any new equipment. At the same time, he said, the department has had to absorb more than $123,000 in personnel-related expenses typically assigned to the parking fund. Because of a projected $525,000 revenue shortfall in parking revenues associated with the COVID-19 crisis those costs have been allocated to the general fund.

Fraser said the combined result is an out-sized increase in spending on the police department that masks the fact that it is essentially level funded.

Resident Abbey Jermyn and others argued that is still too much money to spend on police, while arguing resources that are aimed at covering the cost of law enforcement should be reallocated to help those who need housing, food and other assistance.

“Remaining the same is not enough,” Jermyn said. “It is unacceptable to continue to fund an anti-Black, colonial institution that originated as ‘slave patrol,’ and for you to think that this is somehow acceptable is incredulous to me.”

“The fact that this was your defense to the public cry for defunding the police shows me that the City of Montpelier is more interested in preserving the status quo of insidious racism in our institution than it is in actually being the liberal, acceptable and welcoming place that it claims to be,” Jermyn added.

Jermyn, who earlier in the evening was appointed along with Justin Drechsler, to round out the recently established Police Review Committee, joined residents Sarah Parker-Givens, Rebecca Dalgin and Constantinos Stivaros in urging councilors to heed calls for significant cuts to the police department.

On a night the budget was scheduled to be adopted and the Town Meeting Day warning finalized, Stivaros lamented what he and Jermyn complained was a lack of transparency in the budget-building process and the council’s own failure to listen to persistent calls to cut funding for police.

“This budget was created in the dark — it was never questioned by those of you charged with policy-making power and actually fails to provide the resources and services to our community in times when it needs it most,” he said. “It doesn’t even address the goals and priorities addressed in the budget document itself. This is not a budget I can vote for on Town Meeting Day.”

Also, councilors heard from resident Steven Whitaker who challenged the inclusion of $135,000 — the first of three such installments — to finance the acquisition of three dispatching consoles in the capital equipment fund.

Whitaker questioned the need to replace the existing five-year-old consoles, and argued the investment was premature given a recently commissioned analysis of the region’s emergency dispatching infrastructure commissioned by the Central Vermont Public Safety Authority.

While Councilor Dona Bate, who serves on the CVPSA board, said she was inclined to agree with Whitaker, Fraser noted the city has made no commitments, can’t until after July 1, and described the $135,000 line item as a placeholder for a possible purchase of new consoles.

Councilors generally supported that logic, noting any actual purchase would first require their approval.

Responding to calls they reduce spending on the police department, which started last summer and haven’t let up, councilors said they weren’t prepared to make any structural changes at this time.

Councilor Lauren Hierl noted the Police Review Committee is just starting its work and the findings of that panel could influence future budget deliberations.

Councilors, including Hierl and Dan Richardson, applauded Fraser for a budget proposal that bridged a $1.4 million funding gap — most of it tied to bleak revenue projections and some to one-time expenses — while maintaining services and existing personnel.

“It’s a responsible to the moment budget,” Hierl said.

The spending plan contemplates carrying six vacancies, including one in the police department, for a savings of roughly $384,000. It reflects one-time adjustments to the city’s capital projects and equipment plans for a combined savings of nearly $475,000.

After unanimously adopting the budget, councilors approved the Town Meeting Day warning, which includes municipal and school budget requests, several standard special articles and one new one. Voters will be asked in March whether the city should permit the retail sale of marijuana under a law passed last year.

david.delcore @timesargus.com

School board hears of growing support to rename Thatcher Brook Primary School

WATERBURY — A community forum last month to discuss the history of Waterbury’s school’s namesake has started momentum toward considering changing the name of Thatcher Brook Primary School.

Last week, the Harwood Union Unified School Board heard from teachers and high school students who participated in the online community conversation attended by nearly 100 people to discuss the topic. It was hosted by the Waterbury Anti-Racism Coalition, the Harwood Refugee Outreach Club and the Waterbury Public Library.

“We believe the board should initiate a process to change the name of Thatcher Brook Primary School,” Harwood senior Ellie Odefey told the board. “We hope this process includes a way that Partridge Thatcher and his connection to slavery and our community can be preserved so we can continue to learn from it.”

Odefey referred to the 18th-century figure in Waterbury’s history, Partridge Thatcher, who hailed from New Milford, Conn., and was among the early landowners in the town. He paid one visit to Waterbury in 1782 as part of a surveying team and the Thatcher Brook is named for him.

The town’s school on Stowe Street has served the community for the past century. After Harwood Union High School opened in 1965, it was known as Waterbury Elementary School. Then in 1997 it was renamed to Thatcher Brook Primary School as Waterbury and Duxbury merged to form a union school district with students from both communities attending lower grades in the Waterbury school and then attending the newly built Crossett Brook Middle School in Duxbury. Both of the schools were named after nearby waterways in their communities.

Local officials at the time said the focus then was in coming up with new names that reflected the new school district and the namesakes of the brooks used in that process weren’t ever considered.

Last year, members of the community’s new anti-racism organization were researching some of the town’s founding figures and learned that Thatcher had owned slaves in his time. And while his family history tells of how he took steps before and after his death in 1786 to free them, his legacy as a slaveholder remains.

The research was deemed an apt topic as the group sought to initiate community conversations around race, anti-racism and discrimination in cooperation with the student group and the library. The forum was held Dec. 15 as an online video conference with students facilitating the discussion groups, something Harwood history teacher Kathy Cadwell said stems from the methods students regularly employ to explore many topics.

“You should be really proud of them,” she told the board last week. “This is what we want our kids to do is to be active members in our democracy and in our community.”

Harwood junior Allie Brooks, from Warren, shared results of a survey of forum participants in which 87% said they supported changing the school name and nearly 68% said they strongly favored a name change. She did suggest that the future conversations seek out a wider variety of opinions given how the forum attendees were in such strong agreement.

Other community feedback on social media has been more mixed with older local residents not as connected with the school directly saying they think a name change is unnecessary.

School board members have a number of anti-racism topics on their to-do list for this year, including the Thatcher Brook school issue, the possibility of raising the Black Lives Matter flag at schools, and a myriad of avenues to explore regarding equity, bullying, curriculum and more in the schools. They thanked the students for the presentation on the Thatcher Brook forum calling it an important issue.

“This is a topic that we have prioritized this year for our board,” said Chair Caitlin Hollister, one of Waterbury’s four representatives on the board.

The students say they see this issue as a way to connect the past to the present day.

“Addressing racism in our communities is something that students are as passionate as ever about,” Harwood senior Jasper Koliba of Waterbury told the school board. “The conversation of the Thatcher Brook name change marks a stepping stone towards understanding racism in our communities.”

For more on this story, go to waterburyroundabout.org.

Ernie and Andrea Englehardt, of Middlesex, ski across a bridge over the North Branch of the Winooski River in Montpelier on Friday. The Montpelier Parks Department’s snowmobile is getting repaired so many of the trails around the city haven’t been groomed recently but conditions are still excellent.

Excellent Conditions

Ross Sheehan: “Delineations”