The_Valley_Reporter - Editorials Fri, 31 Oct 2014 09:52:13 -0400 en-gb Unhealthy

At a candidates' forum this week, the four candidates for state representative expressed strong opinions about Vermont's failed education funding formula, our current and prospective future health care costs and property tax increases.

This comes at a time when the 100,000 or so Vermonters who are in the state's health care exchange are being asked to re-up for another year and are finding that, guess what? Rates are up.
Now into this morass of bad choices comes a report from the Vermont School Board's Association suggesting that if all teachers in the state were to have their health care plans reduced from their current levels, which are the equivalent of a platinum plan on Vermont Health Connect, to the equivalent of the health exchange's gold plan, there would be a $39 million reduction in education costs (and hence property taxes).

The logic in reducing teachers and all school district employees from platinum to gold is that 86 percent of health exchange enrollees are enrolled in the gold plan.

And that may be true, strictly in terms of math. But it seems like a bait and switch for all of us. So education funding is a broken formula as is the health care exchange. Is the solution to take a negotiated benefit away from teachers?

Wouldn't a better solution be to require all Vermont state employees and all educators into the health care exchange?

The same report goes on to conclude that if Vermont's single-payer plan, Green Mountain Care, were to go into effect with a 9 percent employer payroll tax, there would be a 12 percent reduction in property tax rates in the state because property taxes would presumably not be paying for teachers' health care.

Wouldn't property taxes still have to be used to pay for the teachers' employers' 9 percent contribution? Don't we employ the teachers?

We have two failed systems on our hands and this report – while mathematically correct – does not do anything to address the root causes of the failed systems. It just muddies the waters by trying to link single-payer health care to property tax relief.


Editorials Thu, 30 Oct 2014 15:33:23 -0400
It’s not too late!

Wednesday, October 29, is the last day to register to vote in the midterm elections on November 4.

Generally, midterm elections generate less media buzz and lower voter turnouts than their every-four-year counterparts. But that doesn't mean they aren't important. This fall, Vermont voters—meaning you!—will elect six statewide officeholders: governor, lieutenant governor, attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer and auditor of accounts. The state's lone representative to the U.S. House is also up for election.

On an even more local level, this year voters will select 150 members of the House of Representatives and 30 members of the Senate. In the last election, three candidates ran for two state representative positions for Washington-7, which represents the towns of Warren, Waitsfield, Fayston, Moretown and Duxbury. This year, four candidates are battling it out for two spots, not only giving Valley voters more options but upping the ante for door-to-door calls and debates leading up to the big day.

It takes courage to challenge an incumbent, and newcomers to state politics Heidi Spear and Ed Read likely thought long and hard before deciding to run against current Valley representatives Maxine Grad and Adam Greshin. They're taking this election seriously—as are Grad and Greshin—and the discourse that has come out of the competition has brought more nuanced positions on issues that are especially important to Vermonters, such as property tax reform and the single-payer health care system.

Unlike races in other counties and states, all of the candidates have kept their campaigns civil, which isn't always easy to do in small communities where it sometimes seems like everyone knows everything about everyone. Residents would do well to recognize the efforts of their neighbors, coworkers and friends this election season by showing up at the polls in November.

For those who aren't already on their town's voter checklist, registering is as simple as stopping by the town office before next Wednesday and filling out a form. Or, if in-person interaction scares you, sites like will find the correct form and prepare it for you with information you enter online, so that all you have to do it print it out and mail it in. It's not too late!


Editorials Thu, 23 Oct 2014 14:15:45 -0400

One of the candidates running for elected office in Vermont reports that her campaign yard signs have been stolen from their Valley locations.

And that is not right.

When people agree to have any particular candidate's sign on their lawn or business they do so for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they like that candidate best. Perhaps they simply want to be supportive of those running for office.

The reasons don't really matter. What matters is that people have given permission for the signs and candidates have placed them. To remove them violates the principals of free speech that the property owners expressed by having the signs there.

To remove them is a petty, immature and ineffective way to try to make one candidate less visible than others. Although the candidate in question is running for Washington County Senate and her signs are the only Washington County Senate signs that have appeared in The Valley so far, it is hard to see who might benefit from her signs disappearing.

Don't mess with the political signs that people put up. It is their right to do so on their own property. Don't trespass and violate their freedom to support whomever they want.

Don't disrespect the candidates who care enough to run for office in our state. Regardless of party affiliation their desire to run deserves our respect and our courtesy.

If you disagree with the politics of a candidate, get the sign of a candidate with whom you do agree and put it in your own yard.

Don't mess with other people's signs and don't trespass on their property. Show some respect.


Editorials Thu, 16 Oct 2014 13:56:19 -0400

Watching the giant demolition machines claw apart the Ruby Blair house last week in Warren Village was poignant.

It was kind of sad to watch the claw rip through the spaces that had recently been people's apartments, pink shower curtain still hanging as the claw pulled the walls and windows and roof down.

It gave one pause to watch a home that has been in Warren Village for generations and through only a couple of families be reduced in a day to a pile of rubble, capable of fitting into two huge dumpsters. The original plaster and lathe in the walls was exposed for the first time in over 100 years.

From a sheer spectator standpoint, it was quite a sight to see how the equipment tore off sections of the house and fittings, dragging them to the yard and scooping them up into the dumpster.

Warren's reasoning in having the property demolished versus historical rehabilitation was clear. Too expensive. And the town did not want to be in the business of being a landlord. That too is clear.

Warren purchased the property in 1995 from the late Ruby Blair as part of its facility planning for the municipal complex. The Blair house sat between the town offices and the Town Hall. The house originally had four apartments. When the town bought the house it rented two of the apartments and located its Department of Public Works office in one of the apartments and left the fourth empty as it was unrentable.
Towns must prioritize how money is spent, and the decision to remove the house, which dates back to 1858, was made in public and with the public. It would have been nice if money were no object. But it was.

The empty space between the town offices and the Town Hall now represents possibilities for Warren, including green space and the ability to plan for future municipal space.

It is still poignant.


Editorials Thu, 09 Oct 2014 12:54:14 -0400

Last week a Fayston family launched a yearlong effort to reduce the amount of plastic they use. They have pledged to bring no new plastic into their lives and if existing plastic items such as seed trays and the compost bucket break, they will replace them with non-plastic items.

Take a look around your kitchen or bathroom or basement or desk and quickly catalog how much plastic you see. It's a lot. Plastic is pervasive in our society and not just in the form of the plastic bags from the grocery store. We know it's not great for the planet and we know there are chemicals in plastic that mimic hormones to our detriment.

Consider some of the challenges for the Whybrow/Forbes family as they take their plastic challenge.

What will happen when their pens run dry? Can they buy shampoo in bulk in their own Mason jars? What about toothpaste? Will they revert to our grandparents' methods of washing hair in baking soda and conditioning in vinegar? Vinegar comes in plastic bottles, doesn't it? Shoelaces come in plastic packages, don't they?

How will they shop for food in stores where things are already over-packaged and almost everything has some plastic on it? Is there any type of dishwashing liquid that doesn't come in plastic? Almost all cheese is encased in plastic. Most milk cartons have a little plastic pour spout.

Many people are conscientious about how much plastic they use. People quickly adapt to using re-usable shopping bags, washing out Ziploc bags and replacing disposable plastic containers with glass ones, but to attempt to eliminate plastic entirely uncovers just how enmeshed the material is in our lives. The beauty of the Whybrow/Forbes challenge is that it is so thorough.

Follow their blog here:



Editorials Thu, 02 Oct 2014 13:40:33 -0400
Rather drastic

Next week Waitsfield voters will hear the select board explain why they should vote for adopting a town charter.

Among other things, adopting a charter will remove voter authority to elect a town clerk and treasurer and vest that authority instead with the select board.

The reasoning from the select board is that the change is needed so that when the town's budgeting committee is preparing the annual budget, the select board and committee can require the town treasurer to do certain tasks in a certain time frame.

The board may have other reasons for asking voters to give up their statutory authority to elect these town officials and hopefully those will be explained at the two public forums slated to discuss the proposal.

However, it seems like a rather drastic and heavy-handed solution to what might be solved via better communication and clarification about expectations.

The Vermont statutes separate town clerks and treasurers from select board authority for a reason. The statute allows voters to elect these two town officers for a reason. Town clerks certify elections and they need to be independent of the town's authority. Town treasurers balance the books and the budget. Should they really be subject to select board authority?

To get out of complying with this statute, towns must convince voters to adopt the charter and then petition the Legislature to have its new governance model approved.

Is that really necessary? If it ain't broke, don't fix it. No one has presented any solid evidence that the system is broken. It's hard to understand how the loss of citizen authority is justified.

This is not to suggest this is a power grab on behalf of the select board, but it is a real and serious decision to remove any power and authority from voters.


Editorials Thu, 25 Sep 2014 14:09:39 -0400
Patience, but vigilance too

Roadwork season is never an easy one, especially when the work is taking place in multiple locations in the village and The Valley simultaneously.

This week was particularly trying for people trying to get from one end of Waitsfield to the other, even more trying if you had to do it multiple times. The waits were long, the lines of waiting cars were longer and getting in and out of the shopping centers and side streets was not easy.

One day this week, work was under way near Fiddlers Green, on Route 17 approaching the intersection, in Waitsfield Village near Full Circle Auto and on the bridge between Armstrong Road and Tremblay Road on Route 100.

Roadwork is a necessary evil and roadwork season is finite. Patience is required as well as courtesy toward the road workers as they improve our roads.

And while we are driving single file through our villages and our Valley, be vigilant about keeping an eye on what is happening in your rearview mirror. As hard as it is for us to get around during road construction season, it is even harder for emergency services personnel.

If you see emergency lights approaching from behind, pull over as soon as possible and wait. This can be challenging when traveling in a long single-file line of traffic with road equipment crowding one full lane and cars already driving on the shoulder.

We owe it to our emergency medical services and firefighting volunteers to get out of their way as quickly as possible so that they can get to where they are going and help those in need.

Minutes and seconds matter when responding to emergencies and fires and we need to make sure we're paying attention so that we don't delay help getting where it is needed ASAP.
Pull over for emergency responders, be kind to flaggers and each other and be patient!


Editorials Thu, 18 Sep 2014 14:24:55 -0400
Blatant disrespect

Next year at Town Meeting, Waitsfield voters will be asked to authorize the town borrowing money to rebuild Joslin Hill Road. This is a major infrastructure repair that will cost upwards of $1 million or $1.5 million. The road is seriously degraded and can barely be plowed.

Before the town embarks on this massive and expensive infrastructure project, it had the opportunity to study whether or not pedestrian and bike safety on the road could be improved. That road is heavily used by kids riding to school and is currently very dangerous.

The town had already expended the efforts of its town administrator to obtain an 80/20 matching grant to do the study. The town's share was $8,000. The town administrator had already spent time getting the study out to bid and a pre-bid meeting was slated for this week.

The select board this week voted to reject the grant. At the meeting, which was very well attended, members of the public protested the select board's actions, questioning whether or not the board was subverting the will of the voters. Townspeople concerned about safety on that road and others in town had worked with the select board to see if it could be addressed prior to the road rebuild. Hence, the grant application.

At Town Meeting this year, voters passed the town budget that included the $8,000 for the town's share of the study. In the minds of many, the question of studying whether or not the road could be made safer for pedestrians prior to the big dig had been asked and answered.

According to Vermont Deputy Secretary of State Brian Leven, voters authorize their towns to spend up to a ceiling of spending when they approve budgets, so legally, this iteration of the select board, in once again trying to undo the work and decisions of previous boards, has not broken the law. But they have violated the public trust.

Repeatedly rejecting as irrelevant the work of previous public officials is bad form and bad policy. And in this case, it is just bad planning to spend this kind of money and not conduct a feasibility study on improving pedestrian safety.


Editorials Thu, 11 Sep 2014 14:06:55 -0400
Tread carefully

Elected and appointed officials spend a lot of time trying to engage with the public and encouraging public participation in all the processes in which communities undertake.

Far too many important public hearings are held with only the planning commission or select board or members of a task force present as critical decisions are made about our towns and our futures.

So when the public does engage, local officials need to treat their participation with respect and local officials need to follow through on decisions made as a result of citizen participation in the process.

This summer there have been two situations where the Waitsfield Select Board has tried to undo or void the work and decisions made by previous versions of the board, which were made as a result of citizen participation.

Local parents, during Safe Routes to School public hearings, have made their concerns about improved pedestrian access for local roads known. The select board at the time sought a grant to help study the feasibility of widening a shoulder on a well-traveled town road. At a recent meeting of the select board, there was discussion of rejecting that grant and that project.

In the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene 2011, the town worked with Bridge Street Marketplace to get access to the river to remove gravel and promised to return the parking lot to a reasonable condition when it was done. It did not happen and when it was brought to this version of the select board there was pushback and it was not until the minutes from 2011 were consulted that the work was done.

Certainly towns and elected officials must always base their decision making in up-to-the-minute and often fluid circumstances that exist, but it does little for their credibility if they so casually and cavalierly disregard or push back against decisions that have already been made by their predecessors.


Editorials Thu, 04 Sep 2014 13:38:30 -0400
Revisionist history

This week some members of the Waitsfield Select Board sought to undo a plan to look into whether or not it is feasible to add or widen a shoulder on Joslin Hill Road when that road is repaved in 2016.

It was in response to citizen input during public hearings held for Safe Routes to School grants that concern was voiced about the improving safety for pedestrians and cyclists.
In response to that public input the town applied for and received a grant to fund the engineer to see whether a shoulder is possible on one side of the road. The grant is specifically to look at whether it is feasible and how much it would cost. The grant is no guarantee that it will be feasible to add or widen a shoulder but it is the only way (at no cost to taxpayers) to determine if it is do-able.

Some select board members were caustic in their dislike of looking at whether making it easier and safer for pedestrians and kids on bikes might be a good plan.
Others suggested that grants are not a boon to the town because they come with conditions and favored forfeiting the grant in favor of the town just repaving as quickly and cheaply as possible.

That's wrong.

First of all, yes, it is important that our communities look at ways to make it safer for non-car traffic to use our roads. We are already an overly car-centric society, and we are remiss if we don't explore ways to encourage non-car movement throughout our towns.
Secondly, climate change is upon us. It is related to carbon emissions. Getting places via foot or pedal power should be encouraged and made safer when possible. That is the point of planning. We plan for road repairs and if/when possible we make the roads safer for all users – not just the emissions spewing ones.

And thirdly, there is an obesity epidemic in this country. We should all be walking and riding and doing our recreating whenever and wherever we can. Public policy should encourage and facilitate this.

Finally, Waitsfield voters filled the elementary school this week to strongly endorse -- via voting -- that the town be authorized to borrow money to pay for its share of two other village sidewalk segments. Clearly there is support for improving pedestrian/bike access and safety.
To reject a grant to access whether it is possible to make a road safer for pedestrians and bikes is poor planning and bad policy.

This issue will be discussed at the September 8 meeting of the select board.


Editorials Thu, 28 Aug 2014 13:43:17 -0400