The city wants the state to let it replace its pipes.
The city has sued the Vermont Agency of Transportation and Vermont Railway, asking that they cooperate with the city in the replacement of water pipes running under rail crossings rather than first require the city to sign a “master license agreement” that city officials find onerous.
The lawsuit, filed late last week in Rutland civil court, was triggered by a planned project that included replacing a pipe that runs under the Park Street crossing. The project was launched in response to the effect that fighting the 2014 Rutland Plywood fire had on water pressure in nearby neighborhoods.
When the city inquired in 2016 whether it would need a permit from AOT for the work, according to the lawsuit, the agency replied that rather than a permit, the city would have to sign a master license agreement with the agency and Vermont Railway before either would cooperate with the city.
“It is my understanding that there has never been an MLA in place and the operators of the railway have never previously required one,” Rutland Public Works Commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg wrote in an affidavit filed by the city as part of the lawsuit. “Instead, the Department of Public Works and the local railroad office have worked cooperatively to meet our goals ... The City relied on this previous course of conduct with regard to the Park Street Crossing in planning and implementing the Project, as both phases of the Project are dependent on replacing the pipe at the Park Street Crossing.”
The complaint states that the MLA would have applied not just to Park Street, but to all crossings in the city and the town — about 50 total. It would require the city to indemnify AOT and Vermont Railway for any damages associated with the pipes, even if they were caused by the other party’s negligence, according to the lawsuit, and would have given AOT and Vermont Railway the ability to disallow additional water and sewer infrastructure at crossings without cause.
The city would have had to waive its rights to appeal such a denial in court, according to the lawsuit, and pay attorney’s fees for any attempt to enforce the agreement, even if AOT or Vermont Railway lost the case.
Wennberg wrote that the city has learned that AOT has recently made the same requirement of other municipalities.
An inquiry to AOT was referred to rail program director Dan Delabruere, who declined to comment on the lawsuit and refused to discuss the state’s reasoning behind requiring the MLAs in general.
“I’m not going to talk about this issue,” Delabruere said.
Tom Huebner, who spent more than 20 years as president and CEO of Rutland Regional Medical Center, has been appointed by Gov. Phil Scott to an advisory position with Springfield Hospital, which has been struggling with fiscal issues.
Huebner has been charged with assessing what’s happening at Springfield and working with the board of directors and administrators to ensure there is a plan in place to restore the hospital’s fiscal stability, according to a press release sent from Scott’s office.
In a statement, Scott said what was happening at Springfield was a “very serious situation that requires immediate attention, experienced leadership, the oversight and collaboration of state government and a competent and fully transparent response.”
“Tom will work with officials in Springfield and ensure that they complete a thorough assessment and communicate fully, clearly and regularly to patients, employees, the community and the state as they determine what went wrong and how to fix it,” Scott said.
The Associated Press reported Springfield Medical Care Systems CEO Tim Ford stepped down last week and CFO Scott Whittemore resigned before Ford.
Huebner pointed out on Wednesday that he will not be running Springfield Hospital.
“My job is to just be another set of eyes and brain, to keep an eye on it and make sure there’s a good plan that comes together rapidly and make sure that community is well served moving forward and to represent the governor in that process,” he said.
Kevin Mullin, executive director of the Green Mountain Care Board, said his agency had been aware there were financial struggles in Springfield.
“During the budget process, we stressed upon them again, their expenses were growing faster than their revenue. A couple years ago, they lost over $3 million. They had projected a loss of over $900,000 for this year. It came in at a $2.5 million loss,” he said.
Mullin said staff members at the care board believed Springfield was still in a position to solve the problem.
“Then I received a call from a community member who alerted me to the fact that they had not been paying some bills. I reached out then CEO Tim Ford. He kind of pinned everything on this decision that had been made (to) subcontract out for their emergency department,” he said.
According to Mullin, Ford said the ill will in the community had come from doctors who were unhappy about the emergency department decision.
“He kind of downplayed the significance of their financial problems as far as not paying bills,” Mullin said.
A short time later, Mullin added, Whittemore and Ford resigned from their positions.
Rebecca Kelley, spokeswoman for Scott, said Huebner was asked to play a part in Springfield’s efforts because of the work he has done in Rutland and beyond. Huebner has served on the board of directors for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont, the Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems and the American Hospital Association.
“His reputation extends beyond Rutland,” she said. “The governor, in consultation with the secretary of (the Vermont Agency of) Human Services, Al Gobeille, felt his experience and understanding of these systems was going to be really beneficial and helpful in this situation.”
Kelley said Scott hopes Huebner will be able to leverage his experience to assess the situation in Springfield and work with the board of directors to create a plan and communicate with the state and members of the Springfield community.
Scott has also asked Huebner to recommend ways for the state to assist Springfield Hospital through the Agency of Human Services, the Green Mountain Care Board, the Department of Health, the Department of Mental Health or other agencies and departments as appropriate.
Huebner said that while he has worked in the field of hospital administration for many years, he has not filled a role exactly like the one with Springfield before.
He said his position will be both observational and advisory.
“Certainly, Springfield Hospital is an independent, nonprofit, private organization. It’s subject to regulation by the Green Mountain Care Board for sure,” he said. “My job is to make sure they’re thinking of all the things they need to think about, that they’re doing it on an active basis and, frankly, to be sure the state of Vermont is helping them to the greatest degree that is reasonable to make sure that community is well served.”
Rutland City aldermen clashed Wednesday over budget cuts opponents characterized as last-minute blindsides and proponents admitted were “arbitrary.”
The Board of Aldermen ultimately decided to put a $21,454,605 budget proposal before voters in March. They trimmed $117,916 from Mayor David Allaire’s initial budget proposal, according to Alderman William Notte, but $28,884 was eaten by a liability insurance adjustment. Notte called in final numbers as the meeting ran close to the Herald’s deadline.
Early on, Alderman Scott Tommola announced he would seek to cut the computer budgets of every department — roughly $194,000 — by 75 percent. Tommola said he feels the city spends a lot on computers and information technology and has argued that it is time the city had its own IT department, or at least an in-house IT specialist. Alderman Chris Ettori seconded Tommola’s motion “for debate,” saying that there was a lot of inefficiency with each department handling its computer needs independently.
“If each department is going to Staples to buy a computer, I don’t think we’re doing a good job with our IT needs,” Ettori said. “I’m not sure cutting 75 percent from this budget is the best approach, but we need to do something.”
Ettori said he at least wanted to see dialogue on the issue. Notte said the place for that would be a committee discussion, and that cuts that deep could easily “hamstring” departments that might need particular software upgrades.
“What I don’t think would be right ... would be at the last minute to cut this from every budget and throw the department heads a real curveball,” Notte said.
Tommola said the cut would create a “serious impetus” to address the issue.
“If we don’t do something this year, we’re going to put it off next year,” he said. “Some computers might be old, but they can hang on for another year. Twenty-five percent gives (the departments) some leeway. ... We need to be running the city with one foot in the present and one foot in the future. Ignoring IT departments when IT is a part of everyone’s everyday life is negligent.”
Tommola likened the issue to the city’s creation a few years earlier of a human resources department. Allaire said there was a lot of discussion before the city created that position, and that it wasn’t clear at the moment that creating an IT position would actually save any money.
“If we hire an IT person, we’re still going to have to buy hardware, pay for software,” he said. “I think it’s a discussion that needs to happen over a period of time, not during a budget discussion when we’re trying to finalize a budget.”
Allaire said the police department’s computer system was significantly different from those of other departments.
“They’re hooked up to the state, they’re hooked up to the feds,” he said. “It’s a whole other level.”
Board President Sharon Davis attempted to call a vote, but Ettori said he wanted to debate more. Davis suggested that could be better accomplished with a committee referral, but Alderwoman Melinda Humphrey interjected to say she could support a 50 percent cut. Tommola amended his motion to 50 percent.
“I agree something needs to be done, but I’m not going to vote for this motion and leave the department heads hanging,” Alderman Paul Clifford said.
Notte requested a roll-call vote. Only Alderman William Gillam joined Tommola, Ettori and Humphrey in voting “yes,” and the motion failed.
Later in the meeting, Ettori attempted unsuccessfully to cut the $145,000 purchase of a new 5-ton truck for the Department of Public Works and $20,000 of the planned building maintenance for the fire department. Regarding the former, Alderman Thomas DePoy noted that he had frequently voted against new trucks for DPW, but that the truck being replaced was 17 years old.
“I’ve seen that vehicle,” he said. “It’s pretty much going to the melter or the crusher — that’s all it’s worth at this point.”
There was an extensive discussion about how much the city really needed to budget on gas and heating oil that led to some cuts, and Ettori successfully argued to cut $20,000 from the city attorney’s $80,000 for outside legal services.
“This ruling is a defeat for the Trump administration’s all-out assault on the rights of asylum seekers. ”
Jennifer Chang Newell, managing attorney of the ACLU’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, commenting on a U.S. District Court ruling blocking administration policies that prevent immigrants from seeking asylum. — A6
Lawmakers seek relief for a state child welfare system straining under the weight of dealing with Vermont’s opioid addiction crisis. A2
This week, Janelle Faignant answers the musical question how did “The Nutcracker,” beloved Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky ballet that it is, become associated with Christmas? All that and more this week’s The Scene. B5
Downtown Rutland hosts a series of events and stores stay open late so you can get your last-minute shopping done. Visit the Downtown Rutland Facebook page for more information.