WALLINGFORD — The town may spend more for emergency services this year if voters approve.
At the Dec. 17 Select Board meeting, Eric Davenport, of Wallingford Rescue, told the board the organization is asking for a total of $31,000 this year — a $20,000 increase over last year’s appropriation.
Davenport said in an interview Wednesday that the squad needs to replace two of its cardiac monitors, devices that measure heart rate and other vital signs of patients. Brand new, each would cost $46,000. He said the plan is to purchase a refurbished one for close to $24,000.
Davenport said two of the rescue squad’s ambulances are 18 years old and will have to be replaced at some point.
At the Dec. 17 meeting, the Select Board opted to budget for the Rutland County Sheriff’s Department to patrol the town 40 hours per week in the coming fiscal year. Select Board Chairman Bill Brooks made the motion to do so. According to draft minutes of the meeting, It passed 3-2 with Brooks, Selectwoman Rose Regula and Selectman Nelson Tift voting “yes,” and Selectmen Gary Fredette and Mark Tessier voting “no.”
Currently, Wallingford gets 30 hours per week from the Sheriff’s Department. According to the minutes, Sheriff Stephen Benard told the board the cost for 40 hours per week would be $74,921. The town is currently spending $56,160 for 30 hours. Benard said the 40 hours would allow for a dedicated level 3 certified officer to be in Wallingford every day for eight-hour shifts.
Brooks said this would be for a one-year trial basis.
He said in an interview that the main issue Wallingford has with crime is related to traffic, but other incidents have diverted deputies’ time away from road patrols. Brooks said the assigned deputy for this next year will spend half the time on patrol and the other half monitoring traffic.
In other budget-related business, the board decided to level-fund the Gilbert Hart Library at $36,000. This was done on request from Bonnie Gainer, president of the library board of trustees.
Also at the Dec. 17 meeting, the board voted unanimously to accept an offer made by Keith Hawkins for the town-owned property at 1631 Route 103 for $1,500.
Brooks said in an interview that the town came to own the property through tax sale in January 2017. A fire had destroyed the building that was originally there. A few trailers were then put there and people started living in them despite there being no septic system. Brooks said the state became involved and the people there were ultimately evicted. Tax sale rules required the town to wait one year before it could do anything with the property. Brooks said attempts to sell it weren’t, until now, successful. He said the town was owed approximately $12,000 in taxes on the property.
In an effort to reach more people who might benefit from learning about financial capability, BROC-Community Action in Southwestern Vermont has been offering a monthly workshop at the Marble Valley Correctional Facility.
Shelley Faris, team leader of the Economic and Workforce Development Program at BROC, said bringing resources to the Rutland prison is in line with the agency’s mission.
“BROC’s mission, as ‘community action,’ is to improve people’s lives and this is definitely a sector of the community that I feel we can help,” she said.
The Rutland jail frequently houses people who will be released shortly.
“Those are the ones we would like to talk to so that we can make sure they are aware of community resources, especially (the resources at) BROC, and future thinking in a positive way,” Faris said.
The workshop is not a requirement for inmates. Faris said some months she sees repeat attendees and some months all new people. Sometimes she’s meeting with a group of three people and other times there are 18 at the workshop.
“It’s not how many. If I help one fellow, that’s success. ... I’ve had a couple fellows kind of have that ‘aha’ moment. The light bulb just went on while we were having a conversation. That, I always think, is wonderful,” she said.
The inmates direct the workshops according to their interests and questions. Faris said she frequently discusses student loans or credit reports including steps that can be taken to improve the report, the method of making corrections and credit repair.
“I do a lot of work around educating people about them, as many people don’t understand them, and they’ve become the go-to document to judge us for everything from getting an apartment to fuel service,” Faris said.
BROC does not charge the Vermont Department of Corrections for the workshops.
“We’re just trying to get the guys better prepared for when they are released that they can become productive members of the community and can work toward becoming self-sufficient,” said John Cassarino, coordinator of volunteer services at Marble Valley.
Faris said she discusses strategies with inmates because they are stressed about their financial health once they re-enter the community.
“When you’re in there, your financial life comes to a screeching halt. They’re worried their credit cards aren’t being paid, their car payments aren’t being paid. Unless they have someone outside, helping to manage their financial life, they really have no opportunity to do that,” she said.
Faris runs the Individual Development Account program, a matched savings program for BROC. She said her work on the IDA, as well as her own history including self-employment, helping her children and selling real estate, has taught her about finances and financial resources in the area.
“A lot of it is encouraging people. We’ve all made mistakes with our money. We’ve all struggled with money. We’ve all wanted some of those bigger assets in life and felt maybe like you couldn’t get to that goal, but I can assure people that you can,” she said.
According to Faris, some of the inmates who have been released have come to see her at BROC’s offices on Union Street to talk about credit rehabilitation or find resources for starting a business. She said some of the inmates realize their time in prison makes it harder to find jobs so they turn to entrepreneurship for self-employment.
“Come see us, and we’ll do whatever. We have housing counselors here. We have a food shelf. We’ll help you apply for food stamps. Sometimes it can be mind-boggling (but we can help with questions like) ‘What agency do I start at? Who do I go see? Where do I go?’ We’re kind of good at that here,” Faris said.
A former resident of Carson City, Nevada, Faris said one aspect of her internship was to visit prisons as part of the “Scared Straight” program. After that, Marble Valley was not a particularly intimidating place to enter on a monthly basis, she said.
Two years in, Faris said, the workshops are providing a valuable service.
“I think the last one, I had 15 fellows there. They’re very interactive. A lot of questions and dialogue going on. The thing that I love is when I can get maybe some of the younger fellows talking to the older fellows, who maybe already have had businesses or have their own experiences dealing with credit or credit cards and things like that,” she said.
Cassarino said volunteers are important because they demonstrate that there are community members who want the inmates to be successful.
“Regardless of what they’ve done, a large percentage of the inmate population in the state are going to be released back into the community. Our goal is to work with these individuals while they are in our facilities to teach them skills that give them a better chance at success while they’re out,” he said.
In less than a month, Rutland will begin an overhaul of its water metering system, installing 4,700 new Fathom-brand water meters that Department of Public Works Commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg said will shave $130,000 the city’s annual budget.
“We’re comfortable saying we won’t have to raise rates,” Wennberg said. “The board passed the water-sewer rates and budgets ... those rates are set.”
Wennberg said the city water system has 6,245 water meters and 3,700 had been replaced since 2002. He said the industry standard is to replace meters every 15 years.
The transition will run up two separate bills — $247,000 in start-up costs for equipment, and annual $617,000 payments to Fathom over a 15-year lease.
An audit of the new metering system was just completed, so the DPW can begin replacing or updating every meter installed before 2013 while the newer ones are retrofitted, beginning in January.
“We spent a year studying this,” Wennberg said. “At the rate we were putting meters in, there was no way we could take advantage of new technology. ... We expect this is going to pay for itself right in the first year.”
The system includes new meters, a new billing platform and advanced metering infrastructure, and a fixed-base network similar to what’s used at Green Mountain Power.
The meters will be tested every hour instead of once per quarter, enabling the department to proactively locate small leaks.
“It’s a network of communications around the city that’s very much like Wi-Fi,” Wennberg said. “It creates a smart city. If somebody has a leaky toilet or something like that, it will detect that. ... It will send a text or an email, or the system will notify us and we’ll reach out to them.”
In an interview earlier this year, Wennberg said an average household in Rutland pays about $50 to $70 a month for water and sewer, but the old system proved inefficient and, many times, faulty.
In May, the Public Works Committee voted unanimously to recommend the Board of Aldermen authorize Mayor David Allaire to enter into a 15-year agreement with Fathom to install the system.
The Neptune-brand meters are read every three months, so a leak might go unnoticed for an extended period of time racking up thousands on water bills issued at the end of every quarter.
“We’re in the vicinity of 20 to 30 water leaks a year right now,” Wennberg said. “In the wintertime, it’s about one per week on average. That’s a high number.”
Wennberg said leaks account for eight out of every 10 malfunctions tracked using the current system.
Another change residents are likely to see is water bills rising 5 to 10 percent because of more accurate meters, he said.
“When they get to be 15 years old or so, they start to run slow,” Wennberg said. “People with newer meters or accurate meters are paying their fair share. With the older meters, probably not. They’re probably getting some percentage of their water for free.”
Until recently, Wennberg said, the city pumped an average of 2.4 million gallons a day but only billed for 1.1 million gallons, leaving 1.3 million gallons — more than half — unaccounted for.
“It’s an unacceptably high number,” he said. “A good target is 10 percent.”
Another advantage to the new system, Wennberg said, will be the eventual switch from quarterly to monthly billing periods, and more payment options available through an online portal where they can set thresholds for how much money they want to spend every month.
“It makes it easier if (bills are issued) 12 times a year instead of four,” Wennberg said.
Though the next water bill residents will receive will be exactly like the one before, residents can expect to receive new, different bills in April.
The DPW will contact residents during the next six months through social media, postcards and other forms of outreach to plan appointments with metering specialists. Wennberg said residents should prepare a 2-hour window for the installation, though most visits won’t take longer than 20 minutes.
Wennberg said they’re hiring seasonal city workers managed by a separate entity to train for the 3-day-a-week 6-month installation period, completing one neighborhood at a time.
“We’ve never tried to do 6,500 meters in 6 months,” Wennberg said. “These guys have done large cities. They’re going to make sure we take care of everybody.”
Vermont’s attorney general says the state should step up its role to protect data privacy.
In a report issued to lawmakers, the AG’s office said Vermont should do a statewide audit to learn more about what happens to people’s data once it is handed over to state agencies.
“I think we have to have an honest conversation about what the state does with Vermonters’ data, because it is being collected,” said Attorney General T.J. Donovan. “And I’m not sure we even know what different agencies are doing with it.”
Donovan wants to designate a chief privacy officer to ensure the state complies with privacy protections, and provide education and outreach to help people better protect themselves.
The report finds the federal government has been slow to respond to data privacy concerns.
California and the European Union have passed stricter data collection rules, and Donovan wants Vermont to catch up with the quickly emerging technologies.
“I think privacy and protecting people’s data are the biggest consumer protection issues in this state and in this country,” Donovan said. “The world is rapidly changing, and I think we need to take a step back and make sure we are following the best practices about how the state operates when it comes to privacy and data collection and retention.”
Donovan says he is especially concerned with data that is collected from children.
He says parents absolutely have a right to understand what happens to the data that is collected from children working on computers at school and at home.
At least seven states also have a student online protection law.
The AG’s office says it’s received hundreds of complaints of data breaches from Vermonters, and the report recommends a series of immediate and long-range actions to tackle the issue.
Vermont last year passed a Data Broker Registration Act and a Data Broker Data Security Act, but Donovan says the state needs to do more to make sure private information is protected and that people understand what happens with their personal data when it is recorded.
“Federal employees don’t go to work wearing red or blue jerseys. They’re public servants. And the president is treating them like poker chips at one of his failed casinos.”
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., as the federal government shutdown over funding for a Southwest border barrier continues into a second week. — A6
Mill River wins
Mill River used a suffocating press to top Otter Valley in boys basketball. B1
From Windsor, Nathan Jarvis, known as Jarv, an up-and-coming local rap artist who spits hilarious, innovative lyrics at a supersonic pace. No cover. 9 p.m. Clear River Tavern, Route 100 N, Pittsfield.
This week on The Inside Pitch, Bob and Tom are joined by Olivia Valerio. Originally from Proctor, Valerio is now a junior at Salve Regina University where she is playing basketball. Valerio talks with Bob and Tom about wide range of topics. Visit Podbean.com for the latest episode at bit.ly/InsidePitch